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Congee (British English: //; or conjee) is a type of rice porridge or gruel popular in many Asian countries. When eaten as plain rice congee, it is most often served with side dishes. When additional ingredients, such as meat, fish, and flavorings, are added while preparing the congee, it is most often served as a meal on its own, especially for the ill. Names for congee are as varied as the style of its preparation. Despite its many variations, it is usually a thick porridge of rice largely disintegrated after prolonged cooking in water.
|Min Chinese name|
|Thai||โจ๊ก chok (IPA: [tɕóːk])|
|Lao||ເຂົ້າປຽກ khào piak (IPA: [kʰaːo piːək])|
|Khmer||បបរ bâbâr (IPA: [bɑˈbɑː])|
|Burmese||ဆန်ပြုတ် hsan byok IPA: [sʰàmbjoʊʔ]|
|Bengali||জাউ jau (IPA: [dʒaw])|
In ancient times, people named the thick congee chan, the watery one chi or mi. The characteristics of congee are that it is easy to digest and very simple to cook. Congee is one of the traditional Chinese foods and has thousands of years of history in China. The Zhou Book says "Emperor Huang Di was first to cook congee with millet as the ingredient", that may be considered the earliest record of congee. The word congee comes from Tamil கஞ்சி (kanji), a prominent food of ancient Tamil people. The English form may have arrived in the language via Portuguese. In other Asian cultures, it is also called hsan pyok (Burmese), kanji (Tamil/Tulu), kaṇhji (Malayalam), pakhal bhat (Odia), ganji (Kannada/Telugu), baw baw (Khmer), juk (Hakka, Cantonese, Korean), muay (Hokkien and Teochew), zhōu (Mandarin), cháo (Vietnamese), deythuk (Tibetan), chok or khao tom (Thai), kayu (Japanese), lúgaw (Tagalog), Bubur or kanji (Indonesian and Malay) or jaou (Bengali) which is derived directly from the Chinese character 粥 (zhōu, which means gruel), canja (Portuguese). It is also called 稀飯 (pinyin: xifan; Wade–Giles: hsi fan, literally means "watery rice") in some Chinese provinces.
To prepare the dish, rice is boiled in a large amount of water until it softens significantly. Congee can be made in a pot or in a rice cooker. Some rice cookers have a "congee" setting, allowing it to be cooked overnight. The type of rice used can be either short- or long-grain, depending on what is available and regional cultural influences. Culture also often dictates the way congee is cooked and eaten.
In some cultures, congee is eaten primarily as a breakfast food or late supper; in others, it is eaten as a substitute for rice at other meals. It is often considered particularly suitable for the sick as a mild, easily digestible food.
In Burma (now called Myanmar), rice congee is called ဆန်ပြုတ် hsan byok [sʰàmbjoʊʔ], literally "boiled rice". It is very thin and plain, often made with just rice and water, but sometimes with chicken or pork stock and served with a simple garnish of chopped spring onions and crispy fried onions. As in other Asian countries, rice congee is considered food for the unwell.
China and Taiwan
Chinese congees (Chinese: 粥; pinyin: zhōu, Jyutping zuk1), or in Cantonese jūk, vary considerably by region. For example, to make Cantonese congee, white rice is boiled in many times its weight of water for a long time until the rice breaks down and becomes a fairly thick, white porridge (Pinyin: báizhōu). Congees made in other regions may use different types of rice with different quantities of water, producing congees of different consistencies.
Congee is often eaten with zhacai, salted duck eggs, lettuce and dace (Cirrhinus chinensis – Chinese mud carp) paste, bamboo shoots, youtiao, rousong, pickled tofu, wheat gluten, with other condiments, meat or century eggs.
Congee is often eaten with fried bread sticks known as youtiao. Congee with youtiao is commonly eaten as breakfast in many areas in China. Congee can be left watery, or can be drained so it has a texture similar to Western oatmeal porridge. Congee can also be made from brown rice, although this is less common and takes longer to cook.
Besides being an everyday meal, congee is considered to be food therapy for the unwell. Ingredients can be determined by their supposed therapeutic value as well as flavor.
The origin of congee is unknown, but from many historical accounts, it was usually served during times of famine, or when numerous patrons visited the temples, as a way to stretch the rice supply to feed more people.
In China, congee has also been used to feed young infants. However, the congee is not seasoned with salt or any other flavoring. Often it is mixed with steamed and deboned fish.
Congee made from other grains, such as cornmeal, millet, barley, and sorghum, are common in the north of China where rice does not grow as well as other grains suited for a colder climate. Multigrain congee mixes are sold in the health food sections of Chinese supermarkets. Congee with mung beans is usually eaten with sugar, like red bean congee.
In Taiwan, congee is prepared in the same way as in Fujian Province, China, and consists of rice and water, with few other ingredients. Sweet potato is often added for taste, and eggs are sometimes beaten into it to thicken it to a gruel. As with most Chinese styles, congee is often served to the ill and those with difficulty chewing. A variety of side dishes are often served with congee, as well.
In Tamil Nadu, a plain rice porridge, or the thick supernatant water from overcooked rice, is known as kanji. Kanji or Congee is also prepared with different grains available in different parts of Tamil Nadu, for example minor millet or pearl millet, finger millet, broken wheat, maize.The people of Kerala also call this preparation of rice in a watery state kanji, and it is eaten as a porridge with green lentils or chutney. Kanji is prepared with rice or ragi. Nuts and spices are added to the kanji depending on the economic status or health requirements. Rice kanji is prepared by boiling rice in large amounts of water. To this preparation, either milk and sugar (usually jaggery) or curd (yoghurt) and salt are added. Ragi kanji is prepared by drying ragi sprouts in shade, and then grinding them into a smooth powder. This powder is added to water and cooked. Milk and brown sugar are added to this cooked preparation for taste. Ragi kanji can be given to infants after six months. Another kanji preparation uses jevvarisi (sago in English, sabudana in Hindi) in kanji. Sago is dry roasted and powdered with/ without sugar. Powdered sago is boiled in water until cooked. This is eaten by all ages from adults to infants as young as three months.
In the state of Kerala, during the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam, a medicinal kanji is made using Ayurvedic herbs, milk and jaggery. Karkkidakam is known as the month of diseases since the monsoon starts during Karkkidakam. Karikkidaka Kanji is eaten to promote the immune system.
According to the Indian writer Madhur Jaffrey, kanji is, or is derived from, a Tamil word for "boilings", referring to the porridge and also to any water in which rice has been cooked.
Muslims of south India especially Tamil Muslim, Mappila and Beary prepare special congee during month of Ramadhan which is called "nombu kanji" literally meaning "fasting porridge." This is prepared by adding spices like turmeric, dry ginger, pepper, onion, and coconut paste to the congee. Sometimes fenugreek seeds are added to it to enhance the flavor.
In the Goa, Udupi and Mangalore districts, people usually eat rice ganji in a variant manner made by Kannada-speaking, Tulu-speaking or Konkani people in and around Udupi and Mangalore (Karnataka, South India). There, parboiled rice (kocheel akki in Kannada, oorpel aari for black rice, bolenta aari for white rice in Tulu or ukde tandool in Konkani) is steamed with a large amount of water. Jain ganji matt are famous in these districts. Usually, simple ganji with pickle and milk are served, in jain matts. Fresh coconut is grated, and the resulting milk skimmed and added to the ganji (called paez or pyaaz in Konkani), which is served hot with fish curry, coconut chutney, or Indian pickles. In Goa, it is normally served with dried or fresh cooked fish, papad or vegetables.
In the state of Andhra Pradesh, it is called ganji in Telugu and mostly eaten by the very poor. Ganji is made by boiling rice in large amounts of water and then the filtered liquid is known as Ganji. Ganji mixed with buttermilk is believed to add to the flavor, and is also suggested by doctors for patients with ailing health.
Kaanji is a traditional Odia dish. It is a soup-based dish like dal, but tastes a little sour. It is made of rice starch fermented for a few days in an earthen pot. This is considered a very healthy dish as lots of winter vegetables are used as main ingredients. It is seasoned with mustard seeds and turmeric and served hot.
In Indonesian, congee is called bubur, and it is a favourite breakfast food in the country. Every morning, travelling cart of bubur ayam vendors are often found regularly frequenting residential area to sell their wares in the neighbourhood. A popular version is bubur ayam, which is rice congee with shredded chicken meat. It is also served with many condiments, such as green onion, crispy fried shallot, fried soybean, Chinese crullers (youtiao, known as cakwe in Indonesia), both salty and sweet soy sauce, and sometimes it is topped with yellow chicken broth and kerupuk (Indonesian style crackers). Unlike many other Indonesian dishes, it is not spicy; sambal or chili paste is served separately.
The food hawkers sometimes have sate to go with it, made from quail egg or chicken intestine, liver, gizzard, or heart.
On Bali's north coast, famously in a village called Bondalem, there is a local congee dish called mengguh, a popular local chicken and vegetable rice congee that is spicier than common bubur ayam and more similar to tinutuan, using a spice mix of onions, garlic, coriander seeds, pepper and chili.
In another region of Indonesia — the city of Manado in North Sulawesi, there is a very popular type of congee called tinutuan, or also known as bubur Manado (Manadonese porridge). It is rice porridge served with ample amount of vegetables. A bit different from the one sold in Java, it is made from rice porridge, enriched with vegetables which includes kangkung (water spinach), corn kernels, yam or sweet potato, dried salted fish, kemangi (lemon basil) leaves and melinjo (Gnetum gnemon) leaves.
Sago flour is made into porridge in eastern Indonesia, as the staple food of Maluku and Papuan people. The sago congee is called papeda, and usually is eaten with yellow soup made from tuna or mubara fish spiced with turmeric and lime.
Kayu (粥?), or often Okayu (お粥?) is the name for the type of congee eaten in Japan, which is less broken down than congee produced in other cultures. For example, a Cantonese jūk typically uses a water-to-rice ratio of 12:1, but kayu typically uses ratios of 5:1 or 7:1. Also, its cooking time is shorter than other types of congee: kayu is cooked for about 30 minutes, while Cantonese jūk cook for an hour or more.
Kayu may be made with just rice and water, and is often seasoned with salt. Eggs could be beaten into it to thicken it into gruel. Toppings may be added to enhance flavour; Welsh onion, salmon, roe, ginger, and umeboshi (pickled ume fruit) are among the most common. Miso or chicken stock may be used to flavor the broth. Most Japanese electric rice cookers have a specific setting for cooking congee.
In Japan, congee is popularly known as a food served to the ill. Because it is soft and easily digestible, okayu is commonly the first solid food served to Japanese infants; it is used to help with the transition from liquids to normally cooked "plain" rice, as it is a major part of the Japanese diet. It is also commonly eaten by the elderly for the same reasons.
A type of kayu called nanakusa-gayu (七草粥, "seven herb porridge") is traditionally eaten on 7 January with special herbs that some believe protect against evils and invite good luck and longevity in the new year. As a simple, light dish, nanakusa-gayu serves as a break from the many heavy dishes eaten over the Japanese New Year.
In Korea, the dish goes by the name juk 죽 (IPA: [tɕuk]), a word derived from Chinese. More than 40 varieties of juk are mentioned in old documents. Depending on the ingredients and consistency, juk can be considered as a food for recuperation (much like chicken soup in modern American culture), a delicacy, or famine food.
The most general form of juk is simply called huin juk (흰죽, white juk), which is made from plain white rice. Other varieties include different ingredients, such as vegetables, seafood, nuts and other grains. Being largely unflavored, it is served with a number of more flavorful side dishes, such as jeotgal, various types of kimchi, pickled cuttlefish, spicy octopus, and others.
Juk is considered the ideal choice of food for babies, the ill or elderly, as it is easily eaten and digested. It is sold commercially by many chain stores in South Korea, and is a common takeout dish.
In Laos, congee is called khao piak, literally "wet rice" (Lao: ເຂົ້າປຽກ, IPA: [kʰaːo piːək]). It is cooked with rice and chicken broth or water. The congee is then garnished with fried garlic, scallions and pepper. The dish will sometimes be served with chicken, quail eggs, century eggs or youtiao. In Laos, congee is usually eaten as breakfast and during the cold season.
Lugaw (pronounced [ˈluɡaw]) is the Tagalog name for congee. Otherwise similar to Cantonese-style congee, lúgaw is typically thicker, retaining the shape of the rice, but with a similar texture. It is boiled with strips of fresh ginger. Other flavors may be added according to taste. Most often it is topped with scallions and served with crispy fried garlic. As with Japanese okayu, fish or chicken stock may be used to flavor the broth. Lúgaw can also be served with tokwa't baboy (diced tofu and pork), goto (beef tripe), utak (brain [of pig]), dilà (tongue [of pig]), litid ([beef] ligaments), and with calamansi, patís, and soy sauce. It is often served to the ill and the elderly, and is favoured among Filipinos living in colder climates because it is warm, soft, and easy to digest.
Some provinces prefer the Spanish-influenced arroz caldo (an anglicisation of caldo de arroz, literally "rice soup"), which is often thought to be a European dish because of its name. Arroz caldo is actually a Chinese congee that was adapted to the tastes of the Spanish colonial settlers who patronised Chinese restaurants in the Philippines.
Arroz caldo is usually spiced with safflower and black pepper in place of or in addition to the more traditional ginger and scallion. Arroz caldo is more popular among Ilocano, Hiligaynon, and Cebuano peoples (who locally called it as pospas), although those of other provinces, such as Cebu and Bohol, often eat it with the addition of prawns, olive oil, bay leaf, and Chinese sausage.
A dessert version of lugaw is champorado, which is made with rice, cocoa powder and sugar, and topped with milk. It is usually served in the afternoon as a snack, although it can also be eaten for breakfast. In other Hiligaynon-speaking places, lugaw may refer to binignit, a different dessert soup.
In Portugal, a traditional soup made of rice and chicken meat is named canja or Canja de galinha. The Portuguese likely picked up the dish from their colony in Goa, India; where the soup remains a staple (particularly for the ill). The rice is not cooked for as long as in Asian congee, so it is very soft, but not disintegrated. Traditionally, a boiling fowl containing small, immature eggs is used; the eggs are carefully boiled and served in the canja. This soup is sometimes served with a fresh mint leaf on top. Strongly valued as comfort food, it is traditionally given to people recovering from disease, as in Asia, and in some regions of Portugal, there is even an ancient custom of feeding the mother a strict diet of canja in the first weeks after childbirth. It is also eaten traditionally in Brazil and Cape Verde, former Portuguese colonies.
In Singapore, Teochew porridge or Singapore-style porridge is a version of Singapore congee. In Singapore, it's considered a comfort food for both breakfast as well as supper. Teochew porridge dish often accompanied with various small plates of side dishes. Usually, it's served as a banquet of meats, fish egg and vegetables eaten with plain rice porridge. The recipes that early immigrants prepared in Singapore have been modified over the generations to suit local tastes. Singapore Teochew style porridge is usually consumed with a selection of Singaporean Chinese side dishes like Nasi Padang. There is no fixed list of side dishes, but in Singapore, accompaniments typically include lor bak (braised pork), steamed fish, stir-fried water spinach (kangkong goreng), salted egg, fish cake, tofu, omelette, minced meat, braised tau kway, Hei Bee Hiang (fried shrimp chilli paste), and vegetables.
In Sri Lanka, several types of congee are known as kenda in Sinhalese. Sinhala people use congee as a breakfast, a side dish, an accessory to indigenous medical therapies, and a sweet. Kenda can be prepared with many ingredients, including rice, roasted rice, rice flour, finger millet flour, sago, coconut milk, herbs, tubers, kitul flour, and mung bean. When it is prepared with rice and water only, it is known as hal kenda. If salt is added to bring a much saltier taste, it is known as lunu kenda, a dish commonly used as a supplementary diet in purgation therapy in indigenous medical traditions. If roasted rice is used, the congee becomes bendi hal kenda, utilized to treat diarrheal diseases. If rice flour and coconut milk are the main ingredients, such congee is known as kiriya. If finger millet flour and water is used, it is known as kurakkan anama. If coconut milk is added, the dish is called kurakkan kenda. If sago is used, such congee is known as sawu kenda. A special type of congee prepared from the byproducts of coconut oil production is known as pol kiri kenda. There are many varieties of kola kenda, congee with herbs as an ingredient; sometimes, a vaidya or veda mahttaya (a physician trained in indigenous medical traditions) might prescribe a special type of kola kenda, known under such circumstances as behet kenda. Sinhala villagers use specific tubers for preparing congee, such as Diascorea species tubers. If kitul flour is mixed with boiling water and coconut milk added to it, this special type of congee is known as kitul piti kenda. Kenda prepared with mung beans is known as mung eta kenda.
Most of the time, kiriya, kurakkan kenda, sawu kenda, pol kiri kenda and kitul piti kenda are used as sweets. Sugar, candy, dates, raisins, cashew nut, jaggery, and treacle are among the ingredients that may be added to sweeten these congees.
Congee is also eaten by Sri Lankan Moors for iftar during Ramadan. It is also occasionally made with oats. Tamils and Moors in Sri Lanka call it aarisi kanji (rice kanji) and use chicken or beef for it. It is sometimes made with milk (paal kanji), and there are many other combinations with appropriate prefixes in Tamil.
In Thai cuisine, rice congee, known as chok (Thai: โจ๊ก, IPA: [tɕóːk], a loanword from Min Nan Chinese), is often served as breakfast with a raw or partially cooked egg added. Minced pork or beef and chopped spring onions are usually added, and the dish is optionally topped with a small donut-like pathongko, fried garlic, slivered ginger, and spicy pickles such as pickled radish. Although it is more popular as a breakfast dish, many stores specializing in chok sell it throughout the day. Variations in the meat and toppings are also frequently found. It is especially popular during Thailand's cool season. Thai congee is prepared similarly to Lao congee.
Plain rice congee, known as khao tom kui (Thai: ข้าวต้มกุ๊ย), is often eaten at specialized restaurants which serve a multitude of side dishes to go with it, such as yam kun chiang (a Thai salad made with sliced dried Chinese sausages), mu phalo (pork stewed in soy sauce and five-spice powder), and mu nam liap (minced pork fried with chopped Chinese olives).
In Turkish cuisine, wheat-based mixed dessert congee is called as Ashure. It is a little similar with eight ingredient Chinese congee. It mostly uses seven, ten or twelve ingredients. The ingredients can vary spontaneously but it must be vegan (no animal-based ingredients) like nuts, fruits, grains and sugar. Twelve ingredients represent Alevi behavings called as Twelver. Alevi communities cook it at the tenth day of Muharrem which is the first month of the İslamic calendar. It is a common dessert in Turkey, Greece and Albania.
In Vietnam, rice congee, called cháo (Vietnamese: cháo), is sometimes cooked with pandan leaves or Asian mung bean. In its simplest form (plain rice porridge, known as cháo hoa), it is a food for times of famine and hardship to stretch the rice ration. Alternately, as is especially common among Buddhist monks, nuns and lay people, it can be a simple breakfast food eaten with pickled vegetables or fermented tofu (chao).
Despite its humble ubiquity among the poor, it is also popular as a main entrée when cooked with a variety of meats. For example, cháo gà is cooked with chicken, garlic, and ginger. The rice porridge is cooked in the broth in which a whole chicken had been boiled, and once the chicken is cooked, the meat is sliced and layered on a bed of shredded raw cabbage and sliced scallions and drizzled with a vinegar-based sauce, to be eaten as a side dish to the porridge. Other combinations include cháo vịt (duck porridge), which is cooked in the same fashion as the chicken porridge, but with duck. Cháo lòng heo is made with lòng heo, a variety of offal from pork or duck with sliced portions of congealed pork blood. Cháo is typically served with quẩy on the side.
Cháo bầu is a congee containing pig kidney (bầu dục lợn). A specialty of the Hóc Môn district in Ho Chi Minh City, it is typically eaten in rural areas of southern Vietnam. Well-known cháo bầu vendors include Cánh Đồng Hoang, Cô Ba Nữ, and Sáu Quẻn.
It is also common to eat cháo during an illness, as it is believed the porridge is easy to digest while being fortifying. For such purposes, the cháo is sometimes cooked with roasted white rice, giving the porridge broth a more nuanced body and a subtle, nutty flavor. In some parts of Vietnam, local customs call for making cháo as offerings for the "wandering souls" during the Buddhist Vu Lan summer feast.
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- Bengali cuisine
- Filipino cuisine
- Japanese cuisine
- Korean cuisine
- List of ancient dishes and foods
- List of porridges
- List of rice dishes
- Red bean soup
- Rice pudding
- Sago pudding
- Taiwanese cuisine
- Tamil cuisine
- Tapioca pudding
- Thayir sadam
- Udupi cuisine
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