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Originally published by Catharina Cheung. Last updated by Beverly Ngai.
There is little else as comforting as a bowl of congee when you’re feeling a bit under the weather. Seriously, ask any Hongkonger and they’ll concur, then proceed to excitedly give you recommendations on their favourite congee joints—a hotly-debated topic amongst discerning locals. Whether you prefer something plain and simple or dressed up with a variety of fun ingredients, here’s everything you need to know about getting a nice silky bowl of congee in Hong Kong.
Well, sit down and learn something, young grasshopper. Congee is sometimes referred to as porridge, which is just confusing—particularly for Brits—because Asian congee bears no resemblance whatsoever to Western porridge, which is grains cooked in milk. Congee is essentially rice cooked in water, to the point of where it melts into a starchy gruel. Words really don’t do the dish justice. Popular throughout Asian countries, it can be eaten plain and served with side dishes, or boiled with combinations of meat, seafood, and vegetables for different flavours and health benefits.
Because it’s so simple to make, mild in taste, and easy to digest, congee is typically cooked for people who are ill and in need of simple nourishment. As with any plain food base, it can also be jazzed up quite a lot, depending on the kinds of ingredients you chuck in. This dish plays such a prevalent part in Asian cuisine that the majority of rice cookers sold here already come with a pre-set function for cooking congee. This is the OG healthy grain bowl, people!
Congee done the traditional Hong Kong way is typically thicker, because the rice grains are cooked until practically disintegrated. Locals also enjoy eating it as a breakfast food, served with yau za gwai (油炸鬼; fried dough sticks). Here are some of the best congee restaurants around.
When the signature dish is in the name of a restaurant, you know it has to be something special—and the chicken congee at Sun Kee Chicken Congee does not disappoint. First opened in Yuen Long over 30 years ago, the popular cha chaan teng has since spawned six locations across Hong Kong and become one of the city’s most popular destinations for chicken congee.
Every aspect of their famous chicken congee ($58) is carefully looked after. The chicken is slowly braised in a master stock with more than 30 different Chinese medicinal herbs, taking up all the complex aromatic flavours and getting oh-so-tender before it is added into the porridge. As for rice, they using a blend of three different types of rice in order to create the perfect balance of texture and taste.
Mix and match your favourite topping combinations at Sun Kau Kee! This hole-in-the-wall has been a neighbourhood fixture in Wan Chai for over two decades and continues to warm our bellies and soul with some of the tastiest congee you’ll find. Free of MSG, their hearty bowls are made with pure, wholesome ingredients and fresh toppings that can be customised to your liking! You cannot go wrong with the classic pairing of salted lean pork and century egg, but the pig liver and pig heart are equally crowd-pleasing, albeit more adventurous.
Sun Kau Kee Noodle Shop, 9 Tai Wong Tung Street, Wan Chai | (+852) 2865 2827
After 30 years of skillfully fine-tuning and honing their craft, Fat Kee has the formula for silky-smooth congee nailed down to a science—just look to the packed tables and perennial queues for proof. They serve their congee in the claypots that they are cooked in, which retains heat and ensures your food stays warm to the very last spoonful.
With 20 congee options on the menu, you are utterly spoilt for choice, but the oyster porridge ($30) is a must-try, with heaps of plump and juicy baby oysters loaded into every bowl. If seafood is not your preference, opt for the fragrant chicken porridge ($43) and dunk it with their crispy fried dough sticks ($11).
One of our favourite eateries in Sheung Wan is an unassuming restaurant that sits on a corner of a small street. It draws in massive crowds almost daily and has been through the ups and downs of the Hong Kong dining scene for about four decades. Sang Kee is famous for their fish congees, and supply a generous amount of fish balls in their fishball congee ($43). We also really like their lean meat and century egg ($43) option. Their congee is silky smooth, and we credit them for helping cure our recent sore throat. Since you’re queuing up already, also order a portion of stewed turnip ($29)—you won’t regret it. There is no English name on the shopfront, so just look out for the queues.
Sang Kee Congee Shop, 7–9 Burd Street, Sheung Wan | (+852) 2541 1099
Law Fu Kee doesn’t have a particularly eye-catching exterior, so it’s easily overlooked next to its flashier neighbours along Lyndhurst Terrace, but it’s centrally located right across the road from the famous Tai Cheong Bakery. They use long-grain Jasmine rice to make their congee, so its texture is lighter and creamier. The pig kidney and liver congee ($40) is a must-try! Law Fu Kee also serves a range of dishes to accompany their congee and noodles; their most popular is the deep-fried fish ball with clam sauce ($20 for a small portion; $40 for large).
Law Fu Kee Congee and Noodle Specialist, 50 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central | (+852) 2850 6756
Founded by the son of the owner of Ho Hung Kee, the first Michelin-starred wonton noodle shop, you know you’re getting what the name suggests at Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop. This is a great option for those who are put off by the drab look of most congee joints, which do quite frankly feel like they’re stuck in a past, where service and hygiene standards are much laxer. We like going to the IFC branch, but do expect to queue. One of their signature congees is the thick and flavourful minced fish ball congee ($65). They also offer an MSG-free congee base in limited quantities for people who are pernickety about that sort of thing.
Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop, Shop 3016–3018, 3/F, International Finance Centre, 1 Harbour View Street, Central | (+852) 2295 0505
Ho Hung Kee has been around since 1946 and was the first wonton noodle restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star (and no, it’s not Mak’s, though interestingly, Ho Hung Kee did learn his skills from wonton master Mak Woon Chi himself). The brand has since expanded its reach to Shanghai and has significantly become more upscale. Their congee is smooth, creamy, and has clearly been carefully cooked for many hours, but it’s worth bearing in mind that their shining Michelin star is not congee-related, so do try their other offerings as well.
Ho Hung Kee (何洪記), Shop 1204–1205, Hysan Place, 500 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2577 6060
You may turn your nose up at Mui Kee’s shabby dai pai dong surroundings, but they have perfected their craft through three generations of running the family business, and are famous even in Singapore. The rice base is painstakingly prepared over a five-hour-long cooking process, using the traditional method of kneading century eggs into the raw grains so they break down better, thus giving the congee a coveted, lump-less texture. Each portion is then finished off in traditional handmade copper pots as the order comes in, instead of simply ladling it into serving bowls from premade vats of different flavours. Try their sliced beef congee ($36).
Mui Kee Congee, Fa Yuen Street Municipal Services Building, 123A Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok
Another accolade name, Trusty is the first congee restaurant to be included in the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list. Their speciality is in fish broth-based congees, which is made from six different types of dace fish stewed for over four hours—expect some intense umami flavours with the natural sweetness of seafood. One thing to note here is that the consistency of Trusty’s congee is more watery, though not any less smooth, and it’s still an absolute pleasure on the palate.
Trusty Congee King, 7 Heard Street, Wan Chai | (+852) 2882 3268
When it comes to congee, the Chiuchow variety also deserves a mention. The difference between the two is in the consistency: while the Cantonese style, as we have established, is thick and creamy, the Chiuchow version is much more watery, likened to a “rice soup.” Individual rice grains are mushy but remain whole, and are still clearly visible as they settle at the bottom of the bowl.
The region of Chiuchow is famous for its oysters, so it makes sense that oyster congee ($55 for a bowl; $98 for a pot) is a key part of the cuisine. Mid-sized oysters are mostly used for congees, and the broth is stewed with pork bone and chicken, then flavoured with garlic, pepper, ginger, and assorted spices. Top it off with some crunchy, savoury-sweet tung choi (通菜; a preserved vegetable), and you’ve got yourself a hell of a dish.
Chiuchow Delicacies, Shop 4, Ngan Fan Building, 84–94 Wharf Road, North Point | (+852) 3568 5643
As much as the savoury options above are hearty and delicious, we must confess that our true loyalty lies with the humble plain congee. That’s right: just rice and water, with not even a grain of salt. This is the ultimate comfort food when done right, and offers the simple sweetness of rice with nothing else in the way.
Because of our preference of keeping the congee experience pure, our favourite occasional accompaniment would be laam choy (欖菜; olive preserve), but we will also concede that plain congee tastes great with a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil, or some toasted peanuts and pork floss, or with a salted egg on the side. Both Pak Loh and Chiuchow Garden do an amazing plain white congee, as well as an array of classic Chiuchow dishes to go with it.
Pak Loh Chiuchow Restaurant, 23–25 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2576 8886
Chiuchow Garden Restaurant, Shop 21, Basement, Jardine House, Central | (+852) 2525 8246