Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Congee & Hundred Year Old Eggs - Recipe for a Chinese Breakfast

As vast as China is, a typical breakfast varies from one region to another, from dim sum to spicy noodles to steamed buns. One common breakfast in many areas of China is congee, being affordable and easily made.

Congee (also known as jook) is basically porridge made of rice cooked in quite a bit of extra liquid for over an hour. At its most basic it is flavored with white pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil. 

Various toppings and seasonings are offered with congee: thin slices of cooked, marinated or cured meats and fish; green onions; ginger; garlic; cilantro; preserved eggs; fermented tofu; fish sauce; and fried dough crullers (youtiao) to dip.

Congee, right out of the pot, without any seasonings or toppings
The girls idea of a great breakfast usually involves something wheat based doused in maple syrup - and I can't say that I disagree. Even at its most basic, I knew this would be a hard dish to sell first thing in the morning - don't get me started on the toppings! So I decided I had to do this carefully: ensure they were in a good mood, wait until mid morning so they would be truly hungry, and offer a bribe incentive of chocolate croissants if they ate it all. I also tried to come up with a reason to send them in the cold outdoors so that the hot gruel would be more appealing. Since it's best to cook the rice for a couple of hours, we had no choice but to wait until mid morning. To help along with the mood, I suggested a pyjama day and no need to get ready (which is why Elle was the only one brave enough to be photographed). I started to worry on the mood front when Elle panicked about her project freezing on the computer (not having saved any of it) and Pea grumbled about the lack of information she could find for her project - I'll admit, I was getting worried because their moods were plummeting.

And do you know what lifted their spirits and returned joviality to the kitchen? The hundred year old eggs. These are a common topping enjoyed with congee. The nervous energy about trying once more to taste these had the girls giggling. 

100 year old eggs, also known as Century eggs, and according to this packaging, "preserved eggs". Not to be confused with salted duck eggs which are not coated or black on the inside

These eggs are preserved in a mixture of clay, straw, ash, salt and lime for months. Our first attempt, months ago, at trying these was unsuccessful, because it turns out you can find preserved eggs that need to be boiled. Not these - they were good and solid, though that fact did not diminish everyone's trepidation! I scraped, rinsed and peeled one egg - and the girls waited with bated breath. They are not the most appetizing looking eggs, but looked exactly as they should, which was a relief (referring to our first attempt).

I had the table set with a variety of traditional seasonings, and sliced the egg into wedges. The girls know that we have a policy here that all foods must at least be tasted. For seasonings, we had white pepper, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, sliced green onions, slivers of ginger, dried shrimp, roasted seaweed, and our wedges of century egg.

We each flavored our congee to match our preferences - Elle added the seaweed, Pea ginger. Hubby used an awful lot of soya sauce! We tasted the congee, and it tasted fine. Warm porridge on a cold day is nice - though Elle never has liked any form of porridge or rice pudding, so this wasn't a hit for her. She would never request it, but she didn't mind it. 

The congee was thicker the next day - we had quite a bit of leftovers. I had been feeling a little under the weather this past week, and really enjoyed eating hot congee in the mornings. I'm glad it thickened, added a touch of Braggs liquid soy, fresh ground pepper and green onions. It was just what I needed. 

Having tasted our congee, it was time for the real taste test: the eggs.

Thank you Elle, for letting me take your picture!
Tip #1 - this may not be a good idea if you were really sick the night before (Hubby was - this was probably not the best morning for him...)

Tip #2 - Do not put the egg up to your nose and take a big whiff - no, the eggs do not smell good (though I suppose that is subjective) and it will impact your tasting experience. Both Hubby and Elle did this... they were not impressed :)

Tip #3 -Taste the white and yolk separately first - you might like one and not the other. 

Conclusion? Hubby and Elle couldn't stomach the eggs. Hubby did say it was probably because he wasn't feeling good to start with (is that an opening to have him try them again when he is healthy and whole??) Pea didn't mind them. She first nibbled then ate her egg. And Pea is not what you would call easygoing when it comes to food. I actually enjoyed the egg yolk - more so than regular boiled egg yolks. I finished the yolk of the egg we had opened, and enjoyed it with the congee. The "white" of the egg - it is far from white - was not to my liking, not so much the flavor as there wasn't much of one, but the texture which is what I would describe as hard jello. And I can't stand jello, of any sort. 

Congee and fixins - soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, green onions, dried shrimp, seaweed and a bit of century egg yolk
As mentioned above, I enjoyed simple congee all week, and I will make it again. There are 5 eggs left in our pack,  but they won't go completely to waste - the yolks will be eaten, but I think the whites will be headed for the compost. This was a great experience to recognize that breakfast is what you are used to, and can be very different for someone else. 

If you'd like to make congee, here's the recipe:

  • 14 cups of water or chicken broth (I only had 6 cups of broth on hand, and made up the rest with water)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup long grain rice
Bring your choice of liquid to a boil and add salt and rice. Once it starts to boil again, bring the heat down to low, and simmer, covered for 1 1/2 hours. If it feels like it hasn't thickened much at this point, uncover and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. 

Serve warm with seasonings!

By the way, the girls did eat all of their congee, and very much enjoyed their chocolate croissants - breakfast in France is more up their alley :)

Chinese tea eggs are also often enjoyed for breakfast, and you can make this at home. The girls enjoyed them, and have been asking to make them again. 
You can find our post and recipe for tea eggs here.


  1. Every hotel breakfast buffet has at least one, if not 2 or 3 different hot pots of congee included with various other offerings. (Mien, fruit, yogurt, fried rice, and other Western or international choices--I had amazing paratha, which is Indian, in China)

    We made Faux Congee in the rice cooker for our little ones when first coming home, by cooking rice the regular way, then adding more water and cooking again. I didn't realize it's a 14:1 ratio!

    Personally, I think congee is like warm wallpaper paste, but it's a staple in orphanages, and part of my children's heritage. They prefer Cheerios now, though.

    1. I can see what you mean about wall paper paste - especially perfectly plain... and I think I prefer Cheerios too!
      Thanks for sharing your experiences with me from your trips - I find them sooo interesting!

  2. I'm struggling between rolling on the floor with laughter (your POOR husband!!) and retching! Tell your girls they are better women than me! You couldn't pay me to try the eggs. In fact, it could catch on as a form of torture. Smell first and then eat! Oops retching again. This is not good morning reading!! May I just reiterate...your POOR husband!!
    Everything else looks delish though!

    1. This response has me practically rolling on the floor with laughter - I think my husband will very much appreciate your support! I couldn't convince any of our friends to try these either :)


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