Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Comfort Food that Spans Across Cultures.

What's your favorite comfort food? Is it macaroni and cheese, fish and chips or meatloaf and mashed potatoes? For a Bangladeshi it might be a plate of rice and dhal or if you are from Mexico it could be Tamales. Then again it could be plate of Spaghetti Bolognese, Pizza or even Paella even if you're not Italian or Spanish. Whatever it is I know that every country has food that makes people feel nostalgic and gives them a sense of comfort and being home.

 When I lived in South Korea I found that most Koreans don't eat the western version of breakfast. Although bread is eaten there widely nowadays, especially by young people, it is definitely an import as is coffee. For example the word for bread in Korean is "Ppang" which is clearly Pain which is the French word for bread. Bakeries are also becoming more popular and Seoul's best bakeries bear French names like "Paris Baguette" and "Paris Croissant". The bread made is definitely a "twist' on Western baking such red beans or sweet potato fillings in the bread.

Koreans are more likely to eat food at breakfast time that can be eaten at any other part of the day. It could include, rice, soup, meat and the full selection of side dishes such as Kim Chi.When I lived there amongst other dishes I ate some porridge that was so delicious and it made me feel really comfortable and happy when I ate it. Congee is a rice porridge and people make it at home all the time but is also popular at restaurants. I found out later different versions are eaten in many countries throughout the world such as China, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Turkey,Thailand, Portugal  and Bangladesh to name a few places!

After exploring some Congee recipes from a few different Asian countries and the varying accompaniments that go with it apparently each country seems to have their own variation of this rice porridge and there seem to be endless varieties. It is one of the most traditional foods in China and has been eaten for centuries. The basic recipe is rice cooked until it disintegrates after being cooked for a long time with lots of water. When eaten as plain rice porridge it is served with side dishes. The word Congee is actually derived from Tamil and originated as "Kanji". In Bengali it is called "Jaou" which I read originates from the Chinese character"Zhou" which means gruel. In Korea it is called Juk which is apparently from a Cantonese word.

Here are a few different recipes and variations of Congee.
The basic recipe can be made with
1 cup of rice
10 cups of water
1 teaspoon of salt.
You bring the water and rice to boil and turn the heat down to medium or low and place the lid but allow the steam to escape.
Then stir the rice till it becomes the texture of creamy porridge.

Accompaniments in the Chinese version could include tiny anchovies, cilantro, peanuts, chicken, mushrooms or green onions, or some other type of shredded meat and corn.

 A popular Korean variation is Beef and mushroom porridge. It can also be made with many other vegetables or with chicken. When made with chicken it is called " Dakjuk" and with beef "Soegogi juk". The chicken variation has julienned pieces of fresh ginger.

 Congee is also popular in the Indian Subcontinent as in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh version where it is served with chola or spicy chick peas for Iftar during Ramadhan.
In Southern Indian states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala Muslims break their Ramadhan fast with Nombu Kanji which is a version of Congee cooked for hours with meat, lentils and vegetables, mint leaves, cinnamon stick and coconut  milk and served with chopped coriander leaves.

In Vietnam it is called Chao Bo and is a rice and beef porridge. The beef is marinated with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and cornstarch and ginger.
1 Cup uncooked Jasmine rice
1/2 lb ground beef marinated in soy sauce cornstarch and  rice wine.
2 cloves garlic
1 piece of ginger
10 cups of beef or chicken stock
minced onions]and chopped fresh coriander.
 Put oil in a large pan with onions and garlic and add the beef till browned.
Add the stock , ginger , soy sauce and rice.
Turn heat to high till boiling.
Turn to low and simmer till the rice turns to a creamy porridge consistency.
Serve topped with chopped green onions and fresh coriander.

A rice porridge dish that spans many countries and pleases many palates varying only in the use of different accompaniments and the time of day it is served. In some countries it's breakfast and in others lunch and in other places it's dinner and others it's a snack but whenever or where ever it's eaten it is the ultimate comfort food! 

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