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All About Porridge (aka congee, polenta, shugo, okayu, uji, nasi lemak, dalia, chao bo, lugaw, mush, farina, etc)

I've been trying to perfect a oatmeal congee over the past few weeks. In the process learned a lot about the different types of porridge.

How to define porridge? I think this site says it best ...

"Just about any grain makes a good porridge. The key is to cook them longer than you would were you to serve the same grain for dinner, and in more water"

Wiki has a pretty good list of porridge across different cultures, using different grains. I might disupte some of them. I think atole is more of a corn gruel rather than porridge.

Even better is this article from the SF Chronicle which has a few recipes at the end.

Morning comfort / From Irish oatmeal to Chinese congee to Mexican champurrado every cuisine offers steaming bowls of cereal to stave off winter's chill

The writer says " just about every culture around the world has its own version of porridge and many are far from bland. They're perked up with fiery chiles pungent fish sauce sweet fruit preserves; enriched with coconut milk chocolate or cream; or bathed in broths of saffron or ginger."

There was a good topic on Chowhound about three years ago that focused on Asian porridge

jook (congee), okayu, porridge, gruel

I finally perfected my oatmeal congee.

I suppose I could call it porridge, but these days that usually means a sweet breakfast dish, especially when using oats. Also, I was going more for the texture and flavor of rice congee. I think, and I might be wrong, that oats have a little more nutritional value that rice.

Anyway, what is your favorite type of porridge?

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  1. I love chao...Vietnamese rice porridge. As a child I had it many times with chicken or duck. The poultry fat would tint it yellow. Yum. A few years ago I discovered that chao do bien, or seafood chao, was also good. I hadn't liked it before because somehow with seafood it was bland. But I discovered how to make it taste rich. Very, very delicious. I still have chao when I am sick as my chicken soup subsitute.

    I love some Indian type porridges...upma, semolina porridge...I have had it various ways, even with buttermilk instead of water as the liquid.

    Also khichri, rice and lentils boiled together till soft, this can be bland and mushy for a tummy ache food, or made firmer almost like a wet lentil pullao, and it can also be seasoned with yummy things like caramelized onions, fried vegetables, or just seasoned with a light tempering.

    I love seasoned North Americn style oatmeal with cinnamon, sugar, and a touch of maple syrup plus lots of butter. I haven't had that in a long time, though. Maybe I will now.

    1. Haleem is one of the most perfect foods I can imagine. Wheat and lamb are cooked together with spices until their flavor and texture mingle in one soft union. It can be a very rich dish when laden with ghee, and was one of my favorite wintertime dishes growing up.

      Nowadays I prefer simpler porridges. Arroz caldo is absolutely restorative when the rice is cooked such that is permeated with the fragrance of ginger and lemons and crunchy fried garlic acts as a foil to soft shredded chicken. Or even a bowl of oatmeal with milk and sugar can be the perfect start to a cold day.

      1. Grits! Cheese grits topped with poached eggs is a favorite weekend breakfast. Shrimp and grits is probably in my top ten favorite foods of all time. Creamy grits with fried apples is a tasty dessert and a filling breakfast. I didn't grow up with grits, but when I moved to the South several years ago I quickly fell in love. Stone-ground grits are much more flavorful but quick-cooking grits are a must to have on hand for days when you don't have an hour to simmer the "real" kind.

        WRT oats, I seem to recall that the more processed the oats are the less nutritional value they have, but steel-cut oats have plenty of fiber and definitely count as a "whole grain." White rice can't even say that much.

        1. manoomin porridge (wild rice)

          1. My favorite porridge is tori zosui, which isn't always technically a porridge because some recipes just add old rice to broth. But, if the rice is initially cooked with more water than the usual ratio, it becomes a porridge and is so soothing in texture. My perfect comfort food.

            1 Reply
            1. re: amyzan

              Replying to my own post, okay: I forgot to mention that I like to add an umeboshi plum to the rice as its cooking, then mix it into the tori zosui. The flesh falls off the pit and shreds up with some stirring. Pickled plum is also good with ochazuke, another porridge type dish made with green tea and dashi. If you don't have chicken, you can also make sake zosui, or salmon porridge, another fave, good with crispy skin or kizame (shredded) nori garnish.

            2. I accidentally made my favorite porridge a couple years ago, and never looked back. I was cooking brown rice, and silly me, threw the lentils in at the same time as the rice. So already that was cooking them too long. Then I accidentaly over cooked the rice, as I got distracted by chowhound, and it made one mushy mess that i added butter and salt to. Man was it delicious! I squirted a little sriracha into the bowl when I ate it, and it was even better as leftovers too.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kubasd

                Hahaha :) Kubasd, you accidentally made khichdi (described by luckyfatima above)


                it is indeed awesome, and as LF said, you can have it very simple like you did, or take it up with seasonings, veggies, etc.

                One of my favorite versions is the South Indian pongal (rice + moong dal).
                Savory pongal is spiced with cumin, ginger, black pepper, ghee and cashews.
                Sweet pongal is spiced with jaggery, cardamom, cashews, raisins, and ghee.

              2. I make a quick and simple oatmeal porridge for breakfast with the following:

                Oatmeal, home made chicken stock, shredded chicken, spinach, soy sauce & sesame oil.

                It's super tasty and healthy!

                6 Replies
                1. re: joonjoon

                  I really prefer my oatmeal savory. I had a piece of italian sausage lying around, so I chopped it up and browned it, threw in just a touch of tomato sauce, and sweated some chopped garlic with it.

                  Add oatmeal and water. I also threw in some veggies i had hanging out in the freezer like spinach and corn. Finish with parm.

                  I think the recipe needs a little tweaking but overall it was very tasty! I might throw in just a little bit of chicken stock and/or white wine next time.

                  1. re: joonjoon

                    I think it was Bitterman who made a savory version drizzled with olive oil

                    1. re: rworange

                      It seems like many people on this thread would like upma, one of my breakfast favorirtes.
                      It's a South Indian breakfast / tiffin staple.
                      It can be made with cream of wheat, or cracked wheat, or any of many other grains.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I'm really starting to enjoy playing with different savory oatmeal combinations. This is what I made today, it started off as a play off Shrimp & grits.

                        Chop and saute Kielbasa, shrimp shells, jalapeno and garlic. Throw in some spices (cumin and a touch of chili powder and curry powder) and tomato paste.

                        Deglazed with a little vermouth (no white wine handy).

                        Add chicken stock, water, bayleaf, oatmeal, corn, and a couple tbsp of jarred Salsa.

                        When oatmeal is done cooking, throw in spinach, chopped cilantro, and cheddar cheese.

                        Not bad at all!

                        1. re: joonjoon

                          Sounds good. Chicken stock makes a significant difference when making savory oatmeal

                    2. re: joonjoon

                      Isn't it funny what you have never considered? I read your post and my nose crinkled. I did not know I was so set in my ways, but SURPRISE! I am a set in oatmeal stone (which can be very sturdy at Chez Vanilla. Chez Vanilla. LOL

                      Anyway, I think I will try that oat and savory Asian concoction Joonjoon (I think you gave me some korean related advice a while back - thank you for that). I will make it a point to roast a chicken this coming week and give it a whirl. Isn't it funny that something so simple is a stretch?

                      BUT there is a person who said they ate grits with apples. I will never go there. EVER.

                    3. I ordered a creamy buckwheat polenta with mascarpone as a side to my braised beef cheeks at A Voce (the one at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan) on Thursday. It was outstanding.

                      1. I make British oatmeal-style porridge (with milk or cream, maple syrup and cinnamon) but instead of oats, I used quinoa.
                        Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is an ancient grain that contains protein (good for breakfast) and has a great nutty flavour. Depending where you buy your quinoa, it may need rinsing first, to take away it's natural bitterness.

                        1. A big glob of mamaliga (corn meal mush) with butter melted on top and sour cream and crumbled salty cheese (feta works) on the side to mix in. An amazingly rich and soothing Romanian staple.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: cmcmcmcm

                            I make mamaliga every couple of weeks. I pour half into a bowl or loaf tin, spread with butter crumble over fetta cheese then top with the rest of the mamaliga, more butter then a sprinkkle of chopped parsley, cool just a little then slice (or wedge). My favourite comfort food.

                          2. Nobody mentions Cream of Wheat or Malt o' Meal? My mom used to make us Cream of Wheat when we were sick and for dinner on Halloween night. I have fond memories. I like it now, but only with lumps, butter in the center and milk around the edges.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                              Both make delicious baked puddings with whole milk, a little sugar, and an egg yolk or two for richness.

                              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                Mom did a lot of good Cream of Wheat. I remember its graininess. We did it with butter and sugar.

                                It came in a tight little compact cardboard box, with a fingernail pivot-down metal chute for its exit. There was also a picture of somebody's face, not quite the Quaker, Jemimah, or Ben.

                                1. re: FoodFuser

                                  I tolerated Cream of Wheat as a kid and didn't care a lot for Malt-O-Meal, but the hot Ralston I really liked. That was like a whole-grain version of Cream of Wheat, only with a coarser texture so it felt like you were actually eating something instead of slurping it down. That was the original cereal from what was then simply Ralston, not yet Ralston-Purina. The little dry biscuits (now called Chex of course) came along later. I'm guessing hot Ralston is long gone.

                                  Maypo was a major disappointment, as was CocoWheats. Borderline ghastly.

                                  Mrs. O became addicted to congee from the breakfast buffet of the Crowne Plaza in Kowloon, and it's still a major comfort-food for her. And last night she was introduced to polenta with Fontina cheese, which appears to be another winner.

                                  1. re: FoodFuser

                                    You can still buy cream of wheat and maltomeal in boxes with the metal spout.

                                    The character on Cream of Wheat boxes was based on a photo of a black chef, believed to be Frank L Write.

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      I've got a new one to add ... cream of oatmeal, AKA mosh. For some reason, Guatemalans grind up oatmeal really fine and the end product is like cream of wheat. Sugar is added and often a piece of cinnamon bark. There may be other spices such as nutmeng or it just might be plain with sugar. Many places offering a full breakfast often include a compliimentary bowl of mosh which is also called moshito.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Another Latin American (at least Ecuadorian) favorite - cuaker (quaker), a drink made by soaking rolled oats. It may be further sweetened and flavored with fruit, pineapple scraps, cinnamon, cloves etc.


                                      2. re: paulj

                                        Boy, Paulj, I remember those boxes
                                        the metal hinged spout sealed with wax paper.
                                        my brother and I would fight
                                        to see who got open it.

                                        We did the same with new peanut butter
                                        to be first with spoon to that glistening flat top.

                                    2. re: Sal Vanilla

                                      In my grade school years breakfast was almost always one of those hot cereals. The cold cereals were harder to come by where we lived. I recall a regular cycle of oatmeal, cream of wheat, fried left over oatmeal, fried left over cream of wheat. Saturday was a treat with toasted oatmeal, a simple granola made by toasting rolled oats in butter and sugar (usually cooked in the electric skillet for 20 minutes).

                                      Older Joy of Cooking editions have a 'farina pudding', cream of wheat with added egg yolks and butter, finished with beaten egg whites.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        Mrs. O, having established that she liked grits, asked me about Cream of Wheat (she had an odd sort of deprived childhood - no poverty food at all, and very little "mainstream" American). I told her it'd never been a favorite, but it was okay, so of course she had to try it. I bought a box, cooked some; she took a bite, ran to the sink and spat it out, and that was that. Kept the box until, mercifully, it got weevily and was given a decent burial.

                                    3. I still remember Malt O Meal. Essentially Cream of Wheat, but sweetened with malt, which has a very rich, blunt sweetness that is very complex. Great with crumbled bacon or strips of ham. I never thought of dropping a raw egg into it and letting it cook slightly, though. Something new to try.

                                      1. Just made some lugaw which was a staple in my family growing up. I'm a little low on groceries due to a recent surprise snow storm but I managed to make a small batch using homemade chicken stock, water, rice, half an onion, four cloves of garlic, fish sauce and ginger. I only had a small piece of ginger so I added some powdered ginger too - I looooove the ginger burn. Wish I had some chicken and a lemon too, oh well. My sweetie is sick this weekend and doesn't like chicken soup or any of the "regular" things to eat when you're sick, so I'm taking a chance that an asian chicken soup will be palatable.

                                        1. Water, milk, oats and salt. No matter the various porridges I've tried I always come back to this simple classic.

                                          1. When I was a kid in the '70s, my mum would make a hot cereal called Sunny Boy, made with cracked wheat, rye and flax seeds. They started making it again, Happy Happy Joy Joy!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: hypomyces

                                              Many of the grains from the bulk bins of a 60/70s style health foods store (or Bobs Red Mill) can be cooked as a breakfast cereal. One's I've used include:
                                              cracked wheat
                                              whole wheat berries
                                              rolled triticale
                                              oats of all sorts (whole, rolled, cut, coarse grind)

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                Bob's is turning out to be an excellent source for lots of porridge makings. Following up on my polenta explorations I came across a blogger in Cincinnati who advises us to use Bob's coarse-milled corn grits (which says on the bag, "Also called POLENTA") instead of regular polenta, which he thinks is too fine to be interesting. I've seen bags of coarse-milled whole-grain polenta from Italy, but I could probably buy three bags of the Big Red Mill stuff for the price of one of those.

                                            2. On a side note, please do not eat your morning oatmeal at your work desk..WITH TUNA MIXED IN.

                                              1. My aunt would serve grits alongside two fried eggs on a plate.
                                                She'd mound up the grits, then push a hole in the middle
                                                and drop in two tabs of butter.

                                                She'd alternate to eat one bite of egg white
                                                then grits from the middle drenched in the butter.
                                                When the butter was gone, and also the egg whites
                                                she'd drop those two yolks in grits' middle hole
                                                then dig in there again with the spoon.