Another rice dish that remains popular in most of Asia is rice gruel or rice porridge. Congee, or Jook, as it is referred to in different parts of Asia, is almost considered Asia's comfort food. Such a dish is easy to prepare — rice is cooked in plenty of water or broth and becomes a thick rice soup — and is regarded as most satisfying.
Like cooked rice, plain rice porridge can be complemented with other flavor some dishes. Congee is a comfort food, typically a breakfast food, and also was the basis for therapeutic treatment in ancient China.
Congee is also prepared and used for religious ceremonies and festivals. For example, a Chinese congee, called Laba Zhou, is named to honor the eighth day of the twelfth moon, the day Buddha received enlightenment. On this day Buddhist temples prepare this congee with cereals, peas, dates, chestnuts, lotus seeds, and dried fruits. When this dish is prepared on other days, it is called eight-treasures porridge.
Similar to making flavored rice in the West, the water and broth can also be flavored when cooking congee, and there is almost no limit as to what ingredients, toppings, or condiments can be added. Chinese communities the world over would typically add ginger, green onions, and cilantro, while the Koreans sweeten their rice soup with honey, dates, and nuts. The Japanese flavor it with mushrooms and nori seaweed, while the Vietnamese prepare theirs with fish sauce and roasted peanuts.
Typically, if a stronger-flavored broth base is desired, meat such as chicken, pork, or beef, or seafood such as shrimp and scallops, are used.
Why is congee or rice porridge often considered undesirable and less luxurious?
Rice porridge remains popular in most of Asia. Since this dish requires less rice than plain boiled rice to feed the same number of people, it is considered a poor man's meal in China. Because of this, on the first day of Chinese New Year people eat cooked fluffy rice for all meals. To eat rice porridge on this day is thought to mean hard times for the future. Further, due to the large proportion of water used, the final soft texture of the rice, and its nutritional value and ease of digestion, this dish is preferred for feeding babies, the elderly, and invalids. These factors all contribute to the less luxurious image of congee.