Our preferred blank canvas, at least in the morning, has been oats when we have developed new restaurants recently. And we have tended to look at superfoods when we do our scouting and conceptualization for new menu ideas, and that is about food that (we try to ensure) provides health for both humans and the planet. We have not put congee on any menus, nor has it even been on our radar, but perhaps it should be:
Congee, also known as jook, or rice gruel, has long been the breakfast of billions in China — filling, cheap, energizing, and easily digestible, fit for infants and nonagenarians alike. Some swear by it as a post-exercise pick-me-up; others as a superb hangover cure. Its soothing properties are considered so powerful that congee is even served at funerals.In its most basic form, it’s white rice cooked in water or broth until the grains disintegrate, seasoned with everything from preserved eggs to pig’s blood. Part comfort food, part blank canvas, it’s gone beyond its traditional Cantonese Chinatown setting to approximate a cornstarch slurry in Mission Chinese Food’s Westlake Rice Porridge, and to turn a popular Vietnamese roasted-shellfish street food into Hanoi House’s clams and congee. In this wellness-obsessed, vegan, gluten-free age, it’s no wonder that the ancient dish is being positioned and embraced as an ultramodern health food. Here, a few delicious new takes on overcooked rice.
At Aussie-Chinese coffee shop The Good Sort (5 Doyers St.; $9), the jasmine rice is cooked in almond milk, seasoned with turmeric (plus ginger, cayenne, and coconut sugar), and garnished with coconut cream, poached cranberries, dried strawberries, and an Instagram-friendly edible pansy.
The classic congee at dim sum specialist Tim Ho Wan (85 Fourth Ave.; $3.75) hits that elusive sweet spot between thick soup and thin porridge. Beneath the unassuming surface lie shreds of braised pork and bits of both preserved and salted duck egg; on the side, sliced scallion and crispy thumbnail-size chips made from a dough similar to the one used for egg-roll wrappers…
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