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Apr 9, 2013 09:14 AM

Rice Congee - Another iconic Hong Kong Comfort Food

During my past trip to Hong Kong, in addition to my obsessive adventure with Won-Ton Noodles, I also manage to spend some time doing a bit of 'rice congee tasting'.

Comforting, delicious and supposed to be great for the digestive system, great Congees, like great Won-Ton Noodles are pretty hard to find in North America. Nowadays, due to fuel and labor wage increases, many establishments are taking short cuts, bypassing the slow and long simmering approach and using binding agents like starches to reach the desired consistency and texture.

It was my goal to seek out Congee shop that still adopt the traditional approach of using the long hour slow simmering cooking method, Yuba skin and dried conpoy as base ingredients and finishing touch of pouring piping hot Congees into fresh raw ingredients.

All in all, I managed to try out over 6 outfits, ordering the same, if possible, my favorite option, - "Thousand Year Eggs and Salt Preserved Pork with added 'Yellow Sand' Pig's Liver". These places include real hole-in-the-wall as well as more refined establishments:

- Tasty, Kowloon Bay
- Praise House, Sha-Tin City One
- Bamboo House, CWB
- Delicious Congee, Jordan ( with lettuce topping )
- Superior Rice Roll Pro Shop, Prince Edward ( slight deviation )
- Jor Lun Yau Lay, Hung Hum

I believe all six uses the traditional slow cooked method and a minimal of binding agents. This I can tell by observing the congee still retaining the same smooth and 'thick' texture all the way to the end, even with intermittent stirring.

Taste-wise, Praise House, Tasty, Bamboo House and Jor Lun Yau Lay all deserved high praise. Smooth and perfectly textured congee base filled with lovely umami flavor from the Conpoy, they all used real shredded salted pork. However, the most impressive part were the perfect execution of the Pig's Liver. Cooked just right, all four versions were nicely seasoned and gave a delightful 'pop' when bitten into. Then came the smooth, and unctuous textural feel!! So good!! These combination, I doubt any outfit in North America can manage to replicate!

A nice surprise and real find came from a unique version which I happened to come across at the Michelin Bib Gourmand 'Superior Rice Roll'. "Shredded Preserved Duck Gizzard with salted pork bone and sun dried Chinese Mustard green", This congee was unique and refreshing tasting. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about their trade mark Rice Roll whose wrapping tasted 'grainy'!! A No-No!!

Lastly, Delicious Congee! This Bib Gourmand was an expensive and total failure!! Covering old prices on their menu with stickers, they hiked up ALL their products after being featured on Michelin?! Lousy product, unfair pricing coupled with unpleasant surroundings, I wonder how long they could survive?!
BTW, their limped, mushy and bland 'Stirred fry noodles with bean sprouts and top soya sauce" must be one of the worst thing I have eaten on this trip!! We left the whole plate literally untouched!!

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  1. Thanks for all this congee coverage! I don't think I can handle all that pork liver :-), even the pork liver instant noodles at Wai Kee Sham Shui Po, I did not finish!

    An utter shame that I wasn't able to make room in my stomach for congee during my last trip.

    Next time I go back, I want to try Mui Kee 妹記 (now passed down to 3rd generation) in the Garden Street cooked food center in Mongkok Market

    I actually walked up there to explore after stuffing myself with a pineapple bun at Kam Wah, but must have missed the congee shop itself.

    3 Replies
    1. re: K K

      THANK YOU K.K!!!! That youtube documentary was amazing!! Man! the place was within walking distance from where I was staying!! Oh well!! Next time a must try!! Hope the 'master' hasn't retired yet?!!

      1. re: Charles Yu

        Yes the video is awesome, especially with all that level of detail they go through, the cookware he uses, the criteria of chopping fish, and keeping the receipe alive, and also the human aspect of trying to get the grown child (Mui's son) interested in taking over the business (where he seems to want to do his own thing and offer tea and coffee in addition, but his heart doesn't seem to be in it as much), and the owner wanting Mui's son to take over also to repay Mui herself who was kind to him.

        One of my favorite parts is around 8:55, the guy is stir frying fresh fish with ginger (presumably the cheap fishermen food type of sea life), and uses that for fish stock to add to the congee!

        This is why HK is so great...there are still some mom & pop type shops, off the Michelin Bib books and guides, still trying to survive, but yet do something simple yet complex and right over the years, showcasing the old school HK spirit of never giving up, except these places are not going to last forever, and the craft will die along with them.

        Have to admit though, HK TV and net media do tend to focus on the sappier side of the food business to make such programs more appealing to viewership, ultimately it comes down to taste and quality (and price), despite the sob stories, the struggles, and the passion exhibited by these small family businesses.

        With Mui Kee, they say the early bird gets the worm. They tend to sell out by late lunch period. Also the wet market even on the 1st and 2nd floor is fun to walk around to explore but tread carefully on the wet dirty floors. There's a butcher that sells roast pork, bbq pork, roast duck etc at a stall very similar to those selling raw beef or pork or chicken, and one stall that sells Chinese sausages of varying types.

      2. re: K K

        Late reply but 妹記 is my fav in the city by far. It is really cheap but more importantly, so old school. I've been going once a week, haha.

        I haven't had any problems with them selling out. For any potential visitors, the menu is also in english and Japanese. They do close up shop at 3pm though.

      3. "This I can tell by observing the congee still retaining the same smooth and 'thick' texture all the way to the end, even with intermittent stirring."

        I think you may have just solved one of the biggest food mysteries ever for me. Do you mean how congee will start off really nicely thick and then towards the end the consistency gets more watery? Me and a good friend of mine have been pondering that for like 10 years haha. What exactly do they do that makes that happen?

        thats the one thing ive always found NY to make well was congee, i havent noticed a big difference in quality / flavor of the actual congee itself between NY and HK although the condiments (pork, pidan, liver whatever) its def better in HK. But, it's possible im wrong b/c they do tend to get more watery over time while you're eating at them although the good places less so. Although I guess to be fair I have not actively searched out the best congee in HK just gone to some places that were reasonably famous or had high openrice ratings

        btw i gotta give you credit for your eating ability, i start getting like food fatigue after maybe a week or so and have to start eating healthy!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Lau

          Part of the secret to good congee is identical to sushi rice ingredient criteria, and that is to use a ratio of old crop (aged) rice to new crop rice, some say 50/50. From the video below, high heat and controlling the timing, and the type of pot (and cooking technique) are all important.

          Some of the purists believe more in sampling plain congee (at most having some dried scallop inside), as adding additional ingredients could potentially muck with enjoying the original flavor (and on top of that some sneak in MSG).

          1. re: K K

            ahh interesting, i love congee, but unlike other dishes ive never spent much time to learn that much about it. Wish i could speak more than just some basic cantonese so i could understand this

        2. Charles, saying you're "obsessed" with wonton noodles is an understatement actually - I thought it bordered on religious fervour, with the occasional touches of fanaticism :-D

          Glad to see that the humble congee had somehow also attracted your attention.

          My own "secret" spot for great congee: the humble, wonky-looking 4-decade-old eatery, Lei Yuan Restaurant (not to be confused with lush Lei Garden chain) on Lockhart Road, behind Sogo, Causeway Bay, closed down in Jan 2013. I'd eaten there since I was an elementary school kid but, sadly, I was two months too late to bid farewell to one of my iconic HK eateries from my childhood when I was in HK for our March Chowmeet:

          As discussed in another thread, HK's soaring rents are driving many old-time eateries to close down. Very tragic indeed.

          17 Replies
          1. re: klyeoh

            oh man...i used to go to that place too...super old school. Although not surprised given its location and what it was serving

            i actually ate there in august, but i forgot to bring my camera so i never wrote it up

            1. re: Lau

              Very sad, isn't it? Sometimes, places like this had been there for so long, we tend to take it for granted and somehow assumed that it'll be there forever and ever.

              1. re: klyeoh

                im not one for nostalgia if it doesn't mean better quality, but i do feel sadness for places like this b/c i feel like one day this sort of food may not exist anymore which would be a shame as its wonderful

                Unfortunately, the cities in Asia i tend to eat in frequently (with the exception of taipei) i feel like that is inevitable bc they are among the fastest changing and most expensive cities in Asia unfortunately. Maybe its creative destruction, but i guess we'll see

                1. re: Lau

                  Some places do change for the better - the last time I was in Penang (Malaysia), I thought the "koay teow th'ng" (flat "koay teow" rice noodles in pork/chicken soup) and the "lor bak" (meat, prawn and tofu fritters) at the 107-year-old Kek Seng Coffeeshop actually tasted better than I remembered them from the 1970s/80s.

                  Ditto the "murtabak" (mutton- or chicken-filled Indian pancakes) from the 106-year-old Hameediyah.

                  But then, Penang has a plethora of historic eateries and bakeries - the oldest "tau sar piah" (mung bean-filled Chinese pastries) bakery is 157 years old this year, and still going strong - with better branding and packaging, but still uses the *same* family recipes passed down through generations.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    malaysia and taiwan i feel like are preserving their food culture fairly well

                    singapore i think is likely not

                    HK im still very happy with the food there and i dont think its really changed for the worse although given their rent inflation situation i could see that changing

                    1. re: Lau

                      I was told, the best congees are now in Macau!!

                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        oh yah? ive never really spent much time there (don't really gamble, so not much appeal) it worth trekking over there next time?

                        1. re: Lau

                          Fellow S'pore Chowhounder 'Fourseason' is the expert!! He knows all the cracks and crevices. Was told there's a great congee place serving 'pig's innards' around the corner from the new Lisboa. Robuchon and Rice Congees!! Great Fusion!! Ha!!

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            ah yes haha, i actually ate with him in singapore and NY

                        2. re: Charles Yu

                          Why spend time and $ on a jetfoil ride just to go over there for congee when there are hidden gems scattered across town that just require some effort to get to, and knowing how to read Chinese (which all you regulars know how to do anyway)?

                          Other than Mui Kee, there is a place in Sheung Shui that's far up north, they have sugar cane congee. I'll post only if there's interest, since they open from 6 am to 1:00 pm only and it's quite out of the way.

                          But a little closer to where Charles stayed, by an MTR station or two:

                          順德村煲仔生滾粥 Shun Tak Chuen Hot Pot Congee in Jordan on Woosung street.



                          Freshwater / river fish for congee that they get in daily, Shunde style. Love the diagram where certain parts of the fish are used for specific applications. There is something similar like this in Macau (in extremes where where some of the carp or freshwater fish equivalent is served raw with ginger and scallions)but this is conveniently in Kowloon. They are open early evening till 1:30 am ish and late night snackers can easily catch red minibuses that will take them to NT or HK island.

                          1. re: K K

                            sugar cane congee? never heard of it, is it sweet?

                            this shun de congee claypot place looks wonderful

                            1. re: Lau

                              Found it...東莞佬粥店 (no English name but Dong Guan Guy/Dude Congee Shop)


                              竹蔗茅根粥 / 竹蔗粥 (sugar cane sweet congee). They say it's a must try there, along with pork stomach and innards, and even the crullers and ja leungs are decent. No other shop in town offers this kind of old style (e.g. sugar cane).

                              1. re: K K

                                wow looks really different


                                def on my list although i gotta convince someone to trek out there with me next time for a bowl of congee! haha

                                1. re: Lau

                                  Hmmm.... only a 6 minute walk from Sheung Shui MTR station to the Shek Wu Hui Municipalo Services Building!

                            2. re: K K

                              My friend! If I'm to spend the 1 hour ride over to Macau, it will be for the Curries, the Portuguese Tarts, the Don Alfonso 1890, Robuchon Au Dome....and many many more!!

                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                Now we are talking! :-)

                                Don't forget the glutinous rice stuffed suckling pig (at "8").

                                1. re: K K

                                  Dim Sum at "8" was pretty impressive too!! Surprised by the huge choices!!!

              2. Any feedback on 生記粥品專家 Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan, and 威記粥店 Wai Kee Congee Shop on Stanley Street Central? They come highly recommended by folks I really trust.

                With Wai Kee, the secret is apparently in the plain congee rather than the ones flavored with meat/fish, innards and/or other condiments. Just yuba and dried scallops. It is said that because the more simpler things are harder to get right, and when it is, becomes more valued by those who know how to appreciate.

                17 Replies
                1. re: K K

                  i was going to mention 生記粥品專家 as I tried to eat at it last time, but they were closed for some reason...looks really good

                  i ate at 威記粥店 once a long time ago, but i honestly just remember it was pretty good but not much else (i was kind of hungover and this was before i really documented what i ate)

                  1. re: K K

                    生记 is well known for their rabbit fish porridge (lai mang). Its pre order only and is amongst the best I've had. The other good congee place I enjoy, 利苑 at CWB behind Sogo, has really excellent liver porridge. I am told they only use a particular portion of the pig's liver, but alas, after 40+ years, they had to close because their rental reportedly went from HKD300k to HKD600k per month!! Last day I recall was end Jan 2013.

                    1. re: Kiedis

                      @ Kiedis Agree!! Thanks for the memory!!
                      Rabbit fish, especially those wild, line caught ones, (close to sewer outlets) were soooo good!! Whether used in congees or steamed with shredded red dates and aged tangerine peels!! So sweet and full of umami flavor. Unfortunately, nowadays, they are mostly farmed. Their taste are more subdued and 'flat'. I tried a steamed version in Temple Street and was kind of disappointed.

                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        If you are really lucky, you might be able to purchase rabbit fish off the fisherman boats near the pier at Ap Lei Chau, close to where the wet market and cooked food center is. They also clean and gut it for you. This is a hidden spot that only locals know about. You have to hunt down the boats, sometimes they are docked on both sides of the walkaway where you board the sampans that go between APC and Aberdeen. I swore I saw some baby sharks on one of the fishermen boats one time! Of course there's no facebook or twitter or a hotline you can call, it is luck of the draw. When you score your loot, take it upstairs and make arrangement with one of the cooked food stalls.

                        I remember going fishing with friends in 1991 near Star Ferry, caught a few lai mangs. Too bad we didn't care for them and gave them away to a man who was eyeing our catch (for his dinner). Little did I know haha..

                        1. re: K K

                          Here in Sg, we dont normally gut rabbit fish. In fact its readily available year round and rather cheap. The Chiu Chow folks here simply steam them to go with their porridge, aided by the ubiquitous bean sauce. It only becomes expensive during CNY when the fish are full of roe/sperm, which is why we dont have a habit of gutting them. Havent really seen them eaten this way in HK at the 'da lang' shops, but together with the local mackerel, its quite popular at Sg da lang shops.

                          1. re: Kiedis

                            I cannot confirm 100% the gutting, but they do some clean and prep work for sure from what I've read. All I can say is as delicious as the seafood is in HK, one should definitely consume in moderation, as the waters are still polluted, but at least not red tide Tolo harbor drastic from years back. I know that even back 25 years, many people have said the insides of lai mang are filthy and need to be cleaned before safely eating. Ma yau (threadfin), dai ngan gai (big eye red fish), and mullethead (wu tau) are more common da lang / yu faan cold fishes in HK.

                      2. re: Kiedis

                        How big was the place? 300k already is a huge sum to bring up every month, but 600k? You could rent some of the best Restaurant places in the Center of Vienna for more than 3 months for that price.

                        1. re: NilesCable

                          I reckon it to be in the vicinity of 700 sqft. Its HK, in the better part of Causeway Bay no less. According to reports, the landlord had refrained from increasing the rent for a couple of years. The neighboring shops of similar sizes are already paying 900k-1.2m HKD/month.

                          A little walk from this shop is a tiny 300sqft cafe called 18grams which I really love. They are currently paying in the region of 200k a month. Their excellent lattes are selling at 32HKD a cup. I am holding my breath that they will still be around when I visit again.

                          1. re: NilesCable

                            NilesCable - you'll be shocked if you see the old Lei Yuan. It's really a grimy, cramped old-school Hk eatery, but I loved it to bits.
                            Once, back in the late-90s when I was still living in HK, I brought a visiting French-speaking colleague visiting from Jersey Island there for dinner. She tried the stewed tripe & pig's intestines, and pork congee, and declared the meal a revelation.

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              that place was not nice looking at all although i kind of like the way those old school places feel. however given how expensive HK real estate is im not surprised that its ridiculously expensive b/c where its located is very prime time retail real estate. its ground floor on a street with some of the heaviest foot traffic in HK with lots of tourists and locals looking to shop.

                              1. re: klyeoh

                                I can imagine how it looked. But I never would have guessed rent to be that high even in HK. Just thinking of how much business you need to generate just to pay that rent makes me dizzy. I imagine if you invested in HK real estate some 50 years ago could bring you easy living today. Crazy, in the long run this must kill almost all Restaurants in such locations.

                                1. re: NilesCable

                                  Yes!! That's the reason why stalwarts like Forum and Fook Lam Moon are all contemplating moving! Cannot compete with 'Gold, jewelry and watches' chain stores!

                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                    But the people working in the gold, jewlery and watches stores and their customers also have to eat somewhere. When all the Restaurants move out of these districts, where will they go for food? Sad thing that nobody thinks about the needed circle to keep things running well.

                                    1. re: NilesCable

                                      They ALL head over to 'Honeymoon' in iSquare for desserts!! Ha!!!

                                      1. re: Charles Yu

                                        Quite simply put, 利苑 wasn't a tourist / visitor's eating spot like Tai Ping Koon (for example), but is symbolic of being stuck in time for those who appreciate this in a fading food culture (or who grew up in an era when such eateries were once common, and are sentimental about it), much like Danish Bakery (which isn't Danish by any means) that has provided cheap soccer stadium style grub for locals going to Nam Wah (to watch local soccer games) for aeons (HK style hot dog, milk tea, pastries, fried chicken leg, stuff that former middle and high schoolers would find extremely sentimental about).

                                        Danish Bakery has been in its current location for years and years, but only recently their landlord also doubled their rent. Except Danish will not close for good, but perhaps relocate somewhere else.

                                        Both Danish and 利苑 rely on low prices to sell in volume. So in order to meet those crazy rents they would have to raise prices, to double or triple. Or find a way to sell more within a month (which is not possible for most). When that happens people would rather not eat there or spend their money at the nicer restaurants.

                                        Without these cheap mom and pop eats, all people have left are corporate sponsored chain restaurants. I don't see Mcdonald's or Starbucks fading away from Times Square, and there will always be ever changing eateries in Sogo basement, restaurants in Times Square, and various eateries also in Hysan Place (although not cheap compared to the mom and pop eats). Just be prepared for the likes of $120 beef chow fun or even $50 to $60 won ton noodles from Ho Hung Kee Hysan in a short period (basically airport prices today that will be the norm in CWB in the near future, in fact the bridge isn't gapping that much more now).

                                        To quote a movie title that Wayne Wang's wife starred in (Wayne Wang directed "Joy Luck Club" and other films)... "Life is Cheap, but Toilet Paper Is Expensive".

                                        1. re: K K

                                          prices will go up and places that can't raise prices will go out of business

                                          that said there are still some really cheap places over there, go to the 2nd floor food court of bowrington food centre and you can get some really cheap (and delicious food)

                                          you can eat here for like 25-30 HKD and its delicious too, the curry is awesome

                                          1. re: K K

                                            There was a huge deluge of fans at the Danish Bakery when the news first came out of their impending closure at its current location - it was only later that folks realised it's not closing *immediately*.

                          2. Has anyone tried plain congee at The Chairman in Central? Am told that even something that pedestrian they go the extra steps to make it more special. Apparently they use a 3 rice blend, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai.