Jook - SF Dish of the Month December 2013
The SF Bay Area Dish of the Month for December 2013 is Jook aka congee aka rice porridge ( 粥; juk (Cantonese, Korean)).
Now is your chance to try versions of Jook that you haven't tasted before. Some things to note might be the thickness or rice texture, type of rice, hints of a base beyond water, and variety of accompaniments.
Let's collectively try as many versions of Jook as possible during the month of December! Report back with reviews and photos.
Here's a link to the this month's vote:
It's December 5; and only two posts, both by the same 'hound, and bargain tips to boot (words like "value" and "decent").
I voted for this DOTM, not because I know jook well, but because I know it a bit, like it a lot, and want to know it better.
This is maybe the most apt DOTM I can imagine for these chilly December days; and I'm eager to get out and sample.
But I need direction from those more in the know--eg.,what are the best places for jook (esp in the East Bay, but also more broadly), what makes great jook great, what types of jook do you love best.
re: sundeck sue
Due to travel etc. it's looking unlikely I will be able to sample Jook this month. So I will post observations from past experiences.
Earlier this year I was in Hong Kong and stayed at a hotel that offered Jook for Breakfast. It was excellent, rich, flavorful, comforting, wholesome and not overloaded with MSG. We ate it every day for breakfast and could not understand why most of the people around us were eating a western breakfast when they could be eating delicious congee.
In the Bay Area I have tried Jook at:
Asia pearl in the pacific east mall in Richmond. An acceptable version but not really that special. Lacks a depth of flavor and perhaps has too much MSG.
Koi palace has really good Jook. Here is a report from October that I reported in a different thread:
Went to Koi palace yesterday and got the fish cheek Congee. Pricy but it comes with a big plate of fish chow fun. It was off the charts good. Reminded us of something we might eat in Hong Kong. Both the Congee and the chow fun were among the best things I have eaten all year.
Lastly Ran Khanom Thai, the fabulous Organic thai take out place in the Pacific East Mall in Richmond sometimes had Jook. The last time we had it was last month and it was pork Jook. It was fantastic. We got it as takeout and it reheated very well.
I've had some good jook from a place here in Alameda called Khang Huong on Lincoln Avenue. I got sick with a cold last month, craved jook and went here for a nourishing bowl of jook with sliced pork and preserved egg (my favorite combo). The jook reheated well after I thinned it the next day with a bit of chicken broth.
The porridge at Khanh Huong is listed under the Vietnamese name of Cháo. Their first option is the Khanh Huong Chicken Porridge which aligns, protein-wise, with their very good Hai Phong Pho Ga.
Still, I couldn't resist my typical jook combo of Lean Meat (pork) & Preserved Egg Porridge which Nineteen also enjoyed.
The bowl is somewhere between $6-7 (has gone up ~50% in price since they opened 3+ yrs ago) and is a pretty decent serving size (I took home leftovers which were good for a late night snack). I already had ladled out a cup before I took the picture attached below (d@mn Android reboot!). When it came out it was bubbling and filled almost to the rim of the claypot.
I usually doctor up the flavor of jook (too plain for me if just cooked in water) and here it comes with some mustard to add yourself (also have chili oil & soy sauce standard on tables), but this didn't really need much. The porridge itself has more flavor than the average and I assume it is cooked in their chicken broth.
Generous amount of pork & egg.
1707 Lincoln Ave
Here's a youtube video of Mui Kee congee in Mongkok (Kowloon side, Hong Kong, food stall in an upstairs wet market that usually sells out by 1 pm) of the original owner's son, showing how the cooking process of their fish soup congee is done
Even in Hong Kong there are not that many traditional jook shops investing in the effort and labor to make something like this.
This is one of the best examples of what really great jook can be like. One of the secrets is mixing new and old rice grains together, similar to preparing traditional sushi rice. Using strictly new grains will result in a wet gluey consistency, and the old rice grains brings the balance into play by giving it the additional texture. Then they add some oil and century egg, pan fry some fresh fish (with ginger and scallion) then cook it together, and frequently stirring the large pot. Yuba (tofu skin) is another crucial ingredient that gives the jook a necessary creaminess.
While we don't have anything like that in SF Bay Area, there are various options around
High end: any dim sum seafood restaurant will have jook, and usually a larger order to be shared with 4 or more people. You can even make it high end by having seafood cooked with it (e.g abalone, lobster, or crab or shrimp, or geoduck....like at Koi Palace). Never tried doing this, but I would imagine it being quite tasty, although to some a waste, since the fat and juices of shellfish are diluted...and not sure how much you can really taste. Crab might work better, but never tried Dungeness version. Crab jook is quite famous in Macau food stalls and restaurants that specialize in them.
Low end: Lots of these around, especially in jack of all trade places from run of the mill eateries in Chinatown, cheaper dim sum restaurants, HK cafes. Many of these places I tend to avoid, because they don't add the right kind of rice grains, season and flavor the jook with proper effort, and/or just throw in MSG.
With that said, there are a few exceptions where I think the jook is quite decent.
Cooking Papa - I think they just use one type of rice and/or maybe not enough old rice. The grains are too thin and small even after popping. But the bowls are very effective overall for the price and quality. Very creamy and tasty otherwise, and there are several varieties to choose from. Fish filet, beef, and the classics are all done very well. They provide a mini soy sauce dish of condiments, scallions and salted sour minced pickles (which if you ate them plain are overwhelming, but has the effect of adding salt to the jook, and makes it taste a whole lot better). Best of all minimal to no MSG thirst aftereffects. Interestingly they do not add any of their house fish stock to the congee, but there is ginger. If they added some older grains to the mix with a heavier balance, I think this might be perfect.
Turtle Tower (Larkin Street) - Known for chicken pho, but the chicken chao (Vietnamese style jook) is really good. Less creamier consistency and you can still kind of see the rice grains (they do not burst like traditional Cantonese jook), but if you are a fan of the pho ga broth, the chao does shine. A tad watery for my liking, but otherwise very satisfying. You'll need to eat more with it to really fill you up, unless you are not that hungry
Fat Wong's (San Bruno) - similar to Cooking Papa....jook is their namesake (Chinese name).
The jook at ABC (HK café) San Mateo that they serve during breakfast time is dreadful, ladened with MSG and you can feel it on the tip of your tongue after eating a few spoons. Broadway Bistro is not much of an improvement either.
Cooking Papa in Foster City has 18 different types of jook, ranging in price from a $3.25 plain to an $11.25 abalone and chicken porridge. You can add flour crisps (you tiao, long chinese doughnuts), fresh or preserved egg, or dried scallop for an extra buck or two. There's also a $31.95 abalone and seafood house special that serves 4-6 people.
I came here a few nights back, just before closing. The chicken and roasted duck porridge came with a small saucer of sliced scallions and a minced yellow pickle (I think zha cai (pickled mustard), maybe radish).
The rice grains had mostly dissolved, leaving a uniform distribution of especially tiny bits of rice and a not too thick porridge. I'm mostly a jook newbie so I can't be sure, but it tasted deeper than just a water base, possibly from finishing the dish with the meaty chunks of duck and chicken. Points of star anise added some complexity as well, and helped to marry the flavors of the poultry and rice--- I'm guessing they're not used in the other jook types.
The jook stayed delicious as it cooled and never formed the kind of coagulated mess you get from oatmeal after five minutes.
Most of the great Cantonese jooks are done sahng gwun style 生滾, and just like the Mui Kee video, raw fresh ingredients are thrown in and cooked in the jook base so the flavors sink in, and this is also done with cooked items like empress/poached chicken or roast duck. Some of the dim sum restaurants use clay pots, though the Mui Kee clip uses a specific type of pot that retains heat and looks like it has been used for 20 years. The problem with roast duck is that usually there's a lot of fat under the skin so you're getting grease in the jook (some might like it but it's not my style).
If you travel outside SF, particularly in the South and East bay areas, there is Taiwanese style jook to be found. There used to be Porridge House in Cupertino Village but that closed (Tong Dumpling is now in its place), but there are scattered examples in Fremont/Newark/Milpitas. Their approach is like this....you pay a base fee per person (like how Little Sheep charges per person for hotpot broth), which you get unlimited refills of their jook, but it's a coagulated mess where you can still see grains...they have enlarged but not quite burst, and is mushy....and they add in orange yams. The idea is that you go to the steam tables and order some side dishes to go with it, sometimes XLB...cold small plate dishes/stir fry, similar to boiled dumpling jiaozi restaurants or the small plates at Shanghainese restaurants (e.g. deep fried batterless soy sauce oil bamboo shoots/yoh mun suen). It's quite a nice experience otherwise, and a lighter meal, but doesn't quite hit the spot as a bubbling hot bowl of creamy jook without MSG.
Then there's Arroz (e.g. arroz caldo), which some argue is basically Filipino jook. But I know nothing about it.
Hing Lung used to be a golden standard in the day (I'm sure there was some MSG in it) but they're gone and I remember reading that their East Bay location got cited for health safety (or lack thereof). Anyways a relic of the past, time to move on.
Just say no to bad quality MSG'd up jook where the rice grains have not burst.
re: K K
I much prefer Taiwanese style over Cantonese style because my earliest childhood memories of breakfast was plain unsalted jook with a piece of yam. Then everyone shares 5-6 plates of salty bits, such as fried peanuts, salmon skin, soy sauce marinated cucumbers, pork sung, etc.
While easy enough to make at home, it is quite a bit of prep unless you have friends to share with.
The closest I have found in this style in SF is at Thai restaurants, of all places. Lers Ros tenderloin serves it with larger dishes like ong choy, and Ozone tenderloin also had it a few years ago.
Jook is on their take-out menu, so you should be able to get it to go at Cooking Papa. It's a fun place to eat at though--- aside from regular restaurant cool things, TV screens show videos of them preparing the food.
Also serving jook on the peninsula all day is Blue Sky Cafe in Belmont. They have eleven versions, ranging from $3.50 to $6.95. Trying to follow up on a tip from several years back, I didn't see any jook specials on the Chinese-only white board. However, if I understood the server correctly, the Hainan chicken version listed on the menu uses yellow feather chicken so that might be a good choice.
I got the version with fish slices (flounder) tonight. It was thin and not very homogenous-- the view from the top looked like cloudy water. The jook's basic taste wasn't easy to discern because there was an overabundance of fresh ginger. No detectable MSG and not enough salt. Topped with a light scattering of sliced scallions.
On the plus side, I was very pleased with their hot and spicy A choy with fermented bean curd and chilies. Good salt and pepper wings too.
I've read quite a bit on this board that Fat Wong's has good jook. Their Chinese name actually refers to the jook. However, I have not tried it because I relate jook to food you eat when you are sick :) Also because the cheung fun is amazing at Fat Wong's so I never order anything else.
When I'm there, there's always a small crowd of people waiting on their to-go orders.
Fat Wong's Kitchen
1780 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066