Chinese Breakfast

Chinese Breakfast

#99 on the list of reasons I left social media is white people dissing Chinese food. I'm not a big fan of tripe or chicken feet, but I don't get the reaction toward congee (in Cantonese it's pronounced jook, so I never got used to calling it congee).

The condescending attitude I got was "Ugh, it looks like dirty dishwater!" Hey, if it doesn't look good, blame the photographer, not an entire cuisine dating back thousands of years. And when you go back to your chili dogs and mac and cheese, think about what that looks like (and maybe you'll go vegan).

I mean, congee is just rice soup. Rice porridge. Rice pudding without milk in it (now, rice with milk sounds disgusting). It tastes better than oatmeal (also disgusting).

Admittedly, congee is fundamentally poor people's food. Rice may seem cheap, but if you have to stretch it out, just add water. I didn't really appreciate it during my McDonald's-loving youth, but during my consulting stint in Hong Kong, I learned to enjoy it as a breakfast, particularly a thick, velvety congee (my favorite recipe I've tried myself is to mix jasmine and glutinous rice), served as the centerpiece of a set meal (what we normally call a combo here) at a cha chaan teng, literally "tea restaurant", but basically a Hong Kong version of Denny's, a fast casual (in hustle-bustle Hong Kong, fast is really fast) mixture of Chinese and Western food.

For example, when I took my sister and nephews to Lucky House Asian Cafe, the second cha chaan teng I've found in Las Vegas, we had french fries, tomato soup, Chinese whole fried fish, dim sum, Hong Kong lemon iced tea, and Hong Kong style pan-fried noodles.

But anyway, back to congee. We returned for breakfast later, and I had the set pictured above, congee with fish slices (one of the standard congees in Chinese food – in Vietnamese restaurants, I like congee with catfish, and Korean cuisine features congee with abalone), with a side of rice noodle roll.

Breakfast sets typically feature unlimited coffee, too, so, while cha chaan tengs are an endangered species in Hong Kong due to real estate costs, it seems to me they have the ingredients for breakout popularity here. You don't even have to learn to like congee, you can order the macaroni.

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