The Spectrum of Congee

Among au-courant items for expectant dad and mom—particularly those that use the time period “self-care” unironically—is Heng Ou’s ebook “The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother.” It’s impressed by zuo yuezi, or “sitting the month,” the Chinese postpartum custom of spending a number of weeks after a child is born doing little however resting and tending to the physique. In a bit on congee, Ou describes the rice porridge as “one of the most reassuring meals you can eat.” Soft, heat, and straightforward to digest, it’s additionally a “blank canvas on which to improvise,” made with broth or water, endlessly customizable.

Layla Chen’s ardour for grits and for her Chinese heritage led her to give attention to congee, which she makes with each jasmine and brown rice, plus quinoa, dried bay leaves, and medjool dates.

You can discover congee at many eating places in Manhattan’s Chinatown, together with, maybe most famously, Congee Village (100 Allen St.), which opened in 1996. A extra shocking place to search out it’s in brownstone Brooklyn. In 2017, Layla Chen took over the sandwich store Bed-Stuy Provisions and slowly reworked it into Maya Congee Café (563 Gates Ave.), named for her now five-year-old daughter. Chen had initially needed to supply grits, her favourite factor to order on the beloved, now shuttered Bed-Stuy bakery Scratchbread. But when she employed Scratchbread’s proprietor, Matthew Tilden, as a advisor, he advised leaning into her roots. When Chen was seven, her household moved from Guangdong to Hawaii, the place her dad opened a Chinese food-court counter.

The Wake Me Up congee consists of smoked cheese, a soft-boiled egg, spicy shredded pork, avocado, and fried shallots.

Chen’s dad and mom made congee when she was rising up, and, certainly, she ate congee within the weeks after Maya was born. On Nov. 1, roughly forty days after the delivery of her second baby, Chen opened a second Maya Congee Café, in Clinton Hill (1013 Fulton St.), in a much bigger, brighter area, with indoor seating, and an elegantly modular menu, consisting of elements ready in an off-site kitchen which could be warmed and assembled, in dozens of methods, à la minute.

Chen just lately added a black-sesame mochi cake to her evolving menu.

The congee is made with each jasmine and brown rice, plus quinoa and, for a contact of sweetness, medjool dates, a mix that Chen pointedly qualifies, on the menu, as “NON-TRADITIONAL,” and which supplies it a satisfyingly thick, creamy texture and a mild nuttiness. Cooked in water seasoned with bay leaves, it occurs to be vegan, and it’s simple to maintain it as such, even with loads of toppings: roasted peanuts, avocado, shaved broccoli, Chen’s superlative salsa (ginger, turmeric, jalapeño, and garlic), crispy shallots out of large tubs imported from Vietnam—which can be found for buy among the many café’s pantry gadgets.

Omnivores can select from a variety of proteins, together with braised rooster (the leftover braising liquid is combined with the salsa for a wealthy, fortifying soup); spicy shredded pork; a house-made smoked-cheese mix; a soft-boiled hen egg or a tangy preserved duck egg, whose whites have gone black and shiny; and a surprisingly profitable dollop of smoked whitefish salad. Most of these are additionally accessible on toasted hero rolls, for what Chen calls nontraditional banh mi.

Pantry gadgets on the market embrace tinned fish, chili crisp, and spicy honey.

To traditionalists, I say that custom is within the eye of the keeper; Chen’s mom has all the time preferred so as to add alternate grains, corresponding to millet, to her congee. Moreover, Congee Village, which expanded to Flushing (36-36 Prince St.) in 2016, has opened one other location in Manhattan (207 Bowery), in August. On a current afternoon, I popped in for a clay pot of sampan congee, named for the small boats that cruise the Pearl River in Guangdong, whose operators promote the porridge laced with a mixture of meat and seafood. My congee—made with solely white rice, free and silky—was topped with cilantro and peanuts. Within its steamy depths, I discovered delicate curls of squid tentacle, sliced fish cake, pork rinds, and ribbons of roasted pig pores and skin. I added splashes of thick soy sauce, spoonfuls of chili oil, and segments of you tiao, twists of fried dough served at breakfast in China, and felt totally nourished by the spectrum of congee. (Maya Congee Café congee bowls $10-$15; Congee Village congee $4.95-$12.95.) ♦


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