Many Asian countries have variations of rice porridge — there’s okayu in Japan, juk in Korea, jok in Thailand, and lugao from the Philippines. In China, this staple dish is called congee, and it is standard fare for breakfast, lunch, and even dinner. The Chinese start eating congee when they’re very young, as it’s often the first food served to children after a mother’s milk.
Congee is a perfect dish for patients going through treatment, or recuperating on a bland diet, or are having diarrhea. It’s gentle on the stomach and thought to improve the appetite. If you make congee with brown rice, you get the benefits of additional fiber, which will help you maintain regular digestion. While brown rice congee is high in fiber, use white rice when following a bland diet or if you are currently experiencing diarrhea. Congee also helps keep you hydrated, as there is so much water in the dish, making it a great meal to turn to when you might be feeling nauseated or low on energy.
Congee is a flexible dish that can be part of a larger meal or served on its own. It can be made with broth for a richer soup, and with fish or diced chicken for extra protein. To give additional flavor to the soup, incorporate scallions, shitake mushrooms, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Adding any vegetables you might have in the fridge boosts the nutritional value significantly, since congee itself is not vitamin-packed. Be mindful if you are experiencing diarrhea to not add in cruciferous vegetables or other vegetables with the skins on them.
This recipe is a good starting point for whatever improvisations you want to make. Although it takes time to make, it keeps well in the fridge for several days or can be frozen to eat later. If you opt to use stock over water for a more savory dish, serve the stew topped with diced chicken, marinated tofu, a poached egg, or vegetables. The addition of ginger adds warmth to the broth and makes it particularly soothing on the stomach — feel free to add as much as you like.