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Robert Sietsema

10 Great Bowls of Congee, the Soothing Chinese Soup You Need to Try

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The city’s dining scene furnishes comfort soups in profusion. We seek them out when the weather is bad, when we’re coming down with a cold, or simply need a mood booster. Ramen, pho, matzo, and lentil always make the list. But what about congee? This Chinese rice porridge is so extensively cooked that the grains fade into a vast white canvas, fortified with a few feisty ingredients that we fish for like lakeside anglers. A bowlful makes you feel warm all over while it soothes your throat.

Yet congee isn’t available everywhere. In fact, you pretty much have to go to Chinatown to get it. Here’s why. Here are ten favorite bowls, and details about a perfect accompaniment, the youtiao — a stick of fried dough that’s akin to a lighter, more airy, and unsweetened version of a doughnut.

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Wo Hop Restaurant

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This 80-year-old veteran — the second oldest restaurant in Chinatown — offers a snapshot of Cantonese cuisine from the early 20th century. Chow mein, egg foo yung, and chop suey dominated the menu, so that congee is often overlooked, with only two decidedly Chinese-American versions. The beef congee is of medium thickness, with tender swatches of brisket, and instead of youtiao, you can get freshly fried noodles. Thrown into the soup, they’re wonderful.

Robert Sietsema

Xing Wong BBQ Inc. 興旺燒臘飯店

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Recently opened on East Broadway, where a Cantonese revival (with Hong Kong flourishes) is underway, Xing Wong is a classic duck shop. You can get congee here in 13 permutations, including frog, chicken, or — our favorite, shown here — minced beef. The congee is thicker than most with a salty aftertaste of ginger. The cruller fresh enough to eat by itself.

Wu's Wonton King

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This corner Cantonese restaurant deep in the Lower East Side caused a sensation when it opened not long ago a stone’s throw from Mission Chinese. Congee is offered 11 ways (lunch only, seven days), with classics like pork with preserved egg, pig liver, and, our favorite, sliced fish with lettuce. The lettuce rides on top. Cook it in the hot soup to desired limpness. Freshly fried mini-youtiao is served on the side.

XO Kitchen

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Fifteen years ago when this place appeared, it was in the vanguard of Hong Kong cafes that were to become common on the fringes of Chinatown. It’s just as good as ever, with some surprising congee selections on its 15-item list, served en casserole. Standouts include snow frog, abalone, dried scallops, sea snails (shown), and peanuts with fried sesame dough, for an added carb wallop.

Delight Wong

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We’ve been going to this obscure old-timer for a decade or more, but it keeps changing its name, though the menu remains nearly the same. Congee is a serious pursuit, including some funky offerings. For example, take the splendidly thick pork belly with meatball, belly, and liver. Need we point out that this is not a complete list of the organs you’ll find therein? Youtiao alongside are not the freshest, so toss pieces in the soup.

Congee Village 粥之家

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Is this the best place in town for congee? It might be, if you like your rice gruel served with all sorts of condiments in a series of handsome Delft-blue crocks. The congee here is a little thinner and saltier than most, with a nice scallion-and-ginger punch. It is offered in an amazing 29 varieties, including versions with blue crab, pig’s blood and sliced fish, or vegetarian. And where else can you get a cocktail with your congee?

Hanoi House

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Though congee is enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia — especially in Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, each with its own spin — it’s rare to find it in restaurants from those countries. An exception is newcomer Hanoi House, specializing in northern Vietnamese cuisine. The clam congee is made with broken rice, making it soupier than the Chinese version, and it comes with lots of clams, garnished with fried shallots.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Paulette Cole’s vegetarian restaurant in ABC Carpet is finally open, and congee is prominent on the breakfast menu. This bowl mixes rice and millet to make a darker porridge, and a bevy of condiments come on the side, including shredded seaweed, soy sauce, house-made roasted-chile sauce, stewed enoki mushrooms, in addition to the more conventional green onions and fresh ginger.

Shun Wang Restaurant

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You have to look carefully in both Flushing and Elmhurst to find the old-guard Cantonese spots that peddle congee. This excellent Elmhurst restaurant (also serving dim sum in the morning) offers 11 types of congee. We recently picked pork with thousand-year-old egg. The black translucent egg wasn’t really that old, but it was an asset in the soup, which unexpectedly had lots of mushrooms in addition to pork.

8th Garden

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Once again, seek out the old Cantonese places for the best congee. The one offered at this Sunset Park duck shop is clearly aimed at children and the bedridden. Flavoring is limited to ginger, and eating it is like diving into a white cloud. Only a handful of choices, but the staff is glad to put almost anything you want into the soup, including the shrimp shown here. Or go upper-end with lobster at market price. Congee provides the perfect foil.

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Wo Hop Restaurant

This 80-year-old veteran — the second oldest restaurant in Chinatown — offers a snapshot of Cantonese cuisine from the early 20th century. Chow mein, egg foo yung, and chop suey dominated the menu, so that congee is often overlooked, with only two decidedly Chinese-American versions. The beef congee is of medium thickness, with tender swatches of brisket, and instead of youtiao, you can get freshly fried noodles. Thrown into the soup, they’re wonderful.

Robert Sietsema

Xing Wong BBQ Inc. 興旺燒臘飯店

Recently opened on East Broadway, where a Cantonese revival (with Hong Kong flourishes) is underway, Xing Wong is a classic duck shop. You can get congee here in 13 permutations, including frog, chicken, or — our favorite, shown here — minced beef. The congee is thicker than most with a salty aftertaste of ginger. The cruller fresh enough to eat by itself.

Wu's Wonton King

This corner Cantonese restaurant deep in the Lower East Side caused a sensation when it opened not long ago a stone’s throw from Mission Chinese. Congee is offered 11 ways (lunch only, seven days), with classics like pork with preserved egg, pig liver, and, our favorite, sliced fish with lettuce. The lettuce rides on top. Cook it in the hot soup to desired limpness. Freshly fried mini-youtiao is served on the side.

XO Kitchen

Fifteen years ago when this place appeared, it was in the vanguard of Hong Kong cafes that were to become common on the fringes of Chinatown. It’s just as good as ever, with some surprising congee selections on its 15-item list, served en casserole. Standouts include snow frog, abalone, dried scallops, sea snails (shown), and peanuts with fried sesame dough, for an added carb wallop.

Delight Wong

We’ve been going to this obscure old-timer for a decade or more, but it keeps changing its name, though the menu remains nearly the same. Congee is a serious pursuit, including some funky offerings. For example, take the splendidly thick pork belly with meatball, belly, and liver. Need we point out that this is not a complete list of the organs you’ll find therein? Youtiao alongside are not the freshest, so toss pieces in the soup.

Congee Village 粥之家

Is this the best place in town for congee? It might be, if you like your rice gruel served with all sorts of condiments in a series of handsome Delft-blue crocks. The congee here is a little thinner and saltier than most, with a nice scallion-and-ginger punch. It is offered in an amazing 29 varieties, including versions with blue crab, pig’s blood and sliced fish, or vegetarian. And where else can you get a cocktail with your congee?

Hanoi House

Though congee is enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia — especially in Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, each with its own spin — it’s rare to find it in restaurants from those countries. An exception is newcomer Hanoi House, specializing in northern Vietnamese cuisine. The clam congee is made with broken rice, making it soupier than the Chinese version, and it comes with lots of clams, garnished with fried shallots.

abcV

Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Paulette Cole’s vegetarian restaurant in ABC Carpet is finally open, and congee is prominent on the breakfast menu. This bowl mixes rice and millet to make a darker porridge, and a bevy of condiments come on the side, including shredded seaweed, soy sauce, house-made roasted-chile sauce, stewed enoki mushrooms, in addition to the more conventional green onions and fresh ginger.

Shun Wang Restaurant

You have to look carefully in both Flushing and Elmhurst to find the old-guard Cantonese spots that peddle congee. This excellent Elmhurst restaurant (also serving dim sum in the morning) offers 11 types of congee. We recently picked pork with thousand-year-old egg. The black translucent egg wasn’t really that old, but it was an asset in the soup, which unexpectedly had lots of mushrooms in addition to pork.

8th Garden

Once again, seek out the old Cantonese places for the best congee. The one offered at this Sunset Park duck shop is clearly aimed at children and the bedridden. Flavoring is limited to ginger, and eating it is like diving into a white cloud. Only a handful of choices, but the staff is glad to put almost anything you want into the soup, including the shrimp shown here. Or go upper-end with lobster at market price. Congee provides the perfect foil.

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