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#852Basics: Your ultimate guide to congee

By Catharina Cheung 18 November 2019
Header image courtesy of Feed the Swimmers
There is little else as comforting as a bowl of congee in cold weather or when you’re not feeling your best. 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. Because the cold weather is officially here, and we’re nice enough to think of your well-being during flu season, here’s everything you need to know about getting a nice silky bowl of congee in Hong Kong.

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Photo courtesy of Eat What Tonight

What is congee?

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!

Hong Kong-style congee

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 (fried dough sticks). Here are some of the best congee restaurants around.

Photo courtesy of DanielFoodDiary

Sang Kee Congee Shop

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 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 congee cred My Annoying Opinions

Photo courtesy of My Annoying Opinions

Law Fu Kee Congee and Noodle Specialist

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

Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop

Photo courtesy of Where is FatBoy

Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop

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

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Ho Hung Kee congee

Ho Hung Kee Congee and Noodle Shop

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 Congee and Noodle Shop, 1204–1205, Hysan Place, 500 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2577 6060

Mui Kee congee cred DanielFoodDiary

Photo courtesy of DanielFoodDiary

Mui Kee Congee

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

Trusty Congee King

Trusty Congee King

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

Read more! Check out these soothing double-stewed Chinese soups that are perfect for autumn.

Chiu Chow-style congee

When it comes to congee, the Chiu Chow 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 Chiu Chow 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.

Oyster congee cred DayDayShopping

Photo courtesy of DayDayShopping

Chiu Chow Delicacies

The region of Chiu Chow 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 (a preserved vegetable), and you’ve got yourself a hell of a dish.  Chiu Chow Delicacies, Shop 4, G/F, Ngan Fan Building, 84–94 Wharf Road, North Point | (+852) 3568 5643

Plain congee cred The Spruce Eats

Photo courtesy of The Spruce Eats

Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant and Chiuchow Garden

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 (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 Chiu Chow dishes to go with it. Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant, 23–25 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2576 8886 Chiuchow Garden Restaurant, Shop 21, Basement, Jardine House, Central | (+852) 2525 8246

Read more! Find out where to get the best dumplings in Hong Kong, or explore the rest of our Food & Drink section on Localiiz.

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Catharina Cheung

Former senior editor

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.