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Davao City, Philippines

Quarantine? Cook Congee

March 21, 2020 - Saturday 6:03 PM by Leebai Sinsuat Ambolodto

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Comfort food? Congee. And as I dare say that with much conviction, you’d probably think I’m a product endorser for a congee brand in the country.

With everyone on quarantine mode, it’s best to just take a breather and cook. You see, congee and I have this never ending foodieship that I take with me wherever I go. Being inside and unable to go out has never been an issue with me. I love the solitude, really. And for me, quarantine means more time inside the kitchen.

Congee. The word is of Tamil origin.

Breakfast, snack, lunch or dinner, I prepare and cook a bowl of plain congee — with toppings of Pinoy and international flavor pairings — on a weekly basis. Or if I am not in the mood to cook, the city has a number of restaurants with congee on their menu. The problem is, commercialized congee tends to be very bland (syempre, congee, di ba).

Filipinos as we are, we opt for dishes that are malasa. And my palate is truly not an exception.

CHOICES. Resorts World Sentosa's Hotel Michael breakfast includes a selection of congee toppings that remind me of home.

My preferred congee begins with the most basic of congee recipe — ginger, shrimp bouillon cube, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. I want the congee to be bland but savory — but not overpoweringly seasoned. 

  1. RICE. Rinse rice with 2 changes of water. Drain. Set aside.

  2. FLAVOR. In a deep pot, over low-medium heat, add canola oil (I swear by Jolly Canola Oil). Once hot, add pieces of ginger and sauté until fragrant. Add sliced onion and sauté until translucent. Once clear, add minced garlic and continue to sauté until cooked. Do not overcook.

  3. MIX. Add washed rice to pot with ginger-onion-garlic. Pour water and diluted shrimp broth until enough to cover the rice and more. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Cheater’s corner: 1 liter of tepid water + 1 shrimp bouillon cube as broth. 

  1. BOIL. Bring to boil, uncovered.

RICE-WATER RATIO. Rice absorbs liquid even after it is cooked. Don’t worry if you think you’ve poured too much water, you can always boil it down.

  1. SIMMER. Let the congee simmer after boiling. Stir continuously. Check thickness to your liking. Season to taste.

Porridge vs Congee. A porridge is a type of thick soup or thickened stew while a congee can be a type of thick rice porridge or soup most often prepared with vegetables or meat.

CONGEE LOVE. The combination of texture and flavor pairings is enough to make you stay at home, tucked in bed and just enjoy life.

Now that the congee is cooked, it’s time to level up the flavors. I normally have tons of fried and crunchy sides to add to my congee. But one ingredient I cannot live without is salted egg. To me, congee and salted egg taste like heaven on my palate.

Deep fried eggplants (sliced, coated with flour & egg)
Deep fried Tofu (sliced, drained, seasoned)
Salted egg (if using colored salted egg, remove the shell)
Sliced sibuyas dahon 
Fried scallions 
Fried garlic 
Fried anchovies (bulinao)
Chili oil 
Fresh ginger slices

EGG IT UP. Another addition is slices of scrambled egg to make it tastier.

In truth, the selection is endless. This is the time to experiment and explore textures, depths, and of course, taste on the plain congee. Personally, I even love adding kagikit (Pastil Queen’s chili chicken pastil is love!) on my congee.

So, what’s your comfort food?