Congee Noodle House

March 13th, 2006 · 1 Comment

congeeCongee Noodle House
Address: 141 East Broadway
Tel: 604-879-8221

Sun-Thurs 8:30am-1:00am
Fri-Sat 8:30am-2:00am

Goldilocks was Right

By Jason
Eat Vancouver Editor
Monday, March 13th, 2006

** and 1/2 (of four stars)

Congee is rice porridge. Since porridge is something many normally associate with prison, or something a family of bears (and a thieving young blond) might eat, it makes my claim that it is one of the very best dishes in Vancouver somewhat hard to swallow. But make no mistake about it, congee is the real deal.

Like its beef-based cousin, pho, and pretty much every great dish in history, congee was born out of poverty. Like pho, congee is cooked for hours, if not days, to extract the very most out of limited means. While pho broth is made from boiling beef bones, congee is rice cooked down until the starches break down and it becomes a thick porridge. Sound appetizing? Well, there’s a bit more to it than that.

noodlesWhat you receive at the Congee Noodle House is the Chinese version of congee, known as jook (which I will hereafter refer to as congee). I don’t know exactly how they make their congee, but it certainly involves more than just rice. My father, whose mom used to cook a big pot of jook for her nine children, says that her recipe included pork and dried Chinese mushrooms. He also told me that what he tried at the Congee Noodle House is the closest he’s found to his mom’s in 60 years, so I’m inclined to believe the recipes aren’t too different.

As for the congee itself, it is warm and comforting, a sweet song that just won’t leave your conscious thoughts. At once deep and soulful, yet plain and comforting, congee always leaves you wanting more. Chinese mushrooms lend a deep, earthy flavor to the subtle porridge base. The accompaniment you choose for your congee hits the palate next, and the Congee Noodle House offers a wide variety of these. I like the House Special, which is comprised of prawn, scallop, squid and sliced fish. The seafood is added raw to the seething hot porridge and cooks within it, ensuring that the seafood is not overcooked when it comes to your table. I also like anything with Chinese mushrooms, such as the pork and Chinese mushrooms or the chicken and Chinese mushrooms. Again, the meat arrives at the table at the perfect level of doneness because it is added to the porridge just before it arrives at your table. Preserved egg also makes a great foil for the subtle broth, and is very popular among congee regulars. In fact, there are 34 combinations to try and many more given that the Congee Noodle House is happy to fulfill special requests. The regulars also enjoy what the menu calls a Chinese doughnut with their congee, which is fried savory bread that is indeed, quite nice when dipped in a bowl of congee.

Now given the impressiveness of the congee, it’s easy to forget that there’s another word in the title of this restaurant. Although a bit hit-and-miss, the Congee Noodle House does well by its noodles. What the menu calls rice rolls are rice noodle crepes filled with all manner of seafood or meat. They are quite good, but not better than you would receive and any dim sum house nearby. Items from the fried rice noodle category are also pretty good. What the menu monikers beef in soy sauce with fried rice noodle, also known as beef chow fun in some circles, is a serviceable rendition of this old standby. I would stay far away from beef satay with fried rice noodle because it is nothing more than a sickly blend of beef, gooey noodles, bell peppers and pineapples. The barbequed meats are also serviceable, although it would not be hard to find better barbequed pork at a restaurant or carry-out that specializes in it and does a larger business in barbequed meats, to ensure freshness. To be honest, there are 258 items on the Congee Noodle House menu and not all of them are winners, but if you look around, only a small proportion of these items are represented on the tables of the restaurant-goers. Follow their lead, and go with the classics.

As for the atmosphere, it is nearly as austere as the congee itself. Plain walls surround plain tables and chairs that during peak hours are packed with congee lovers. The clientele is predominantly Chinese, many of whom probably have a jook recipe or two up their sleeve, yet come here anyway – a very good sign.

In the end, we come to the conclusion that Goldilocks, that classically finicky young woman, was right: porridge can be good, very good, and perhaps worth stealing for. Just watch where you fall asleep afterwards.

Congee Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Tags: Chinese

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 gluhtzee // Mar 25, 2012 at 8:53 am

    I visited for the first time 6 months ago and twice this month,
    They are consistently a 3* establishment. Share the congee, order the Roasted pork and Ox tongue ‘donut’

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