Almost Christmas Eve Congee

On a recent post about pho ga, the Vietnamese chicken soup, I made mention of a graph that has predicted 2011 to be the year of congee (with regard to Asian comfort food dishes). Later on, reader Sunkneelion made the request: "Article on congee, please!"

Sunkneelion, this article's for you.

Much in the same way that pho ga is the Vietnamese version of chicken soup -- in all its comforting, belly-warming wonder -- congee is the Chinese version of chicken soup, made with rice porridge instead of noodles and subtly flavored with white meat and scallions.

That highly simplified explanation doesn't really do congee justice, though. First, it's not just enjoyed in China, but all over Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In fact, the name "congee" derives from the Tamil language, where it's called "kanhi." In Southern India, it's called "ganji" and is eaten with fresh coconut shavings. In areas of the Philippines, it's called "arroz caldo" and has been adapted over the years from a Chinese recipe to one that suited the more western palates of Spanish colonialists.

But it's the Cantonese Chinese version that you'll find most often here in Houston, where the rice has been boiled into a very soft, watery mixture that's topped with just a scattering of green onions and reminds one of chicken porridge. I asked our Twitter followers for their favorite congee locations in town. A sampling of the answers is below.

married2food: Hong Kong Food Street has pretty good congee.

drricky: Home, I usually make my own. It's dead easy. But all right, HK Food Street. I also liked the 'nutrition congee' at San San Tofu (but it is vegan, I believe).

imneverfull: Fu Fu and Tan Tan.

agorist: Connie makes a mean congee at Te. But, not everyday. Co Po is our standby. Hong Kong Cafe too.

For my part, I headed out to House of Bowls (6550 Corporate Drive, 713-776-2288) over the weekend to get a bowl of congee myself after feeling under the weather for the past few days. I'm not saying House of Bowls has the best congee in town (or the best service, for that matter), but there's something about sitting inside the warm space with its bright, colorful, modern decor amidst the cheerful cacophony of tables filled with chatting friends or loud families while cheesy Aaron Kwok videos play on the big screen TV that makes me feel instantly better.

Congee, too, has a way of making you feel better. The rice itself is easy to digest (and, hey, it's gluten-free!) and, if you happen to be Chinese, will probably remind you of simpler times when your mom was still fixing all of your food for you and feeding it to you while your only care in the world was deciding which toy to play with after dinner. Just like chicken soup, only rice-ier.

Readers, where is your favorite place to get congee? It's worth noting that House of Bowls, just like other favorites like Tan Tan and Hong Kong Food Street, will be open on Christmas Eve should you feel the need to get a bowl of comfort yourself tomorrow night.

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Katharine Shilcutt