Head to Seattle's Uwajimaya food court for hot, savory, soupy rice that's both soothing and surprising.
As the blackboard sign at Seattle’s Congeez shouts, congee is “SAVORY RICE PORRIDGE.” But that doesn’t do it justice — “porridge” just doesn’t sound that good (and “gruel,” also accurate, sounds even worse). Congee is often served for breakfast in Asia, but it’s suitable for any time of day; it’s great when you’re sick. Made right, it’s richly brothy and soothing — like a thicker, arguably even more comforting version of chicken soup. It’s more interesting, too, with sparks of flavor and add-ins that remind you that life’s worth living, whether you’re ailing or well. And at Congeez’s new walk-up counter in the Uwajimaya food court, they make it right, and you can customize your big bowlful to your taste.
The congee basics: First, choose between traditional congee, made with white rice, or black-rice congee; then choose tofu, shredded chicken or pork meatball (just $8.95-$9.95, and the portions really are big, too much to eat in one sitting unless you’re ready for a nap). Either kind of rice has been simmered until breaking-down-soft in rich chicken broth, and any bowlful comes topped with bright cilantro, peppery scallion and spicy hits of julienned fresh ginger.
The white-rice congee: We tried regular style with shredded chicken and a soft-boiled egg ($1 extra) for a very satisfying baseline, with chunks of tender chicken as well as shreds, the egg happily super-soft, and broth that thankfully hadn’t had all the nice chicken fat skimmed away. The porridge itself soothes, while the protein makes you feel sturdy, with the egg further thickening and enrichening the ricey stock; then the cilantro, scallion and ginger add flashes of flavor to different bites.
The black-rice congee: Congeez’s black-rice congee might be even better: The color borders on purplish, and the taste skews nuttier, fuller-flavored and almost sweet. We ordered this one with tofu, in silky, fresh-tasting cubes; a century egg ($1), greenish-blue-black with a pleasant, not-too-powerful funky flavor; and crispy noodles, which quickly reconstituted to delicate filaments when added in. The black-rice version was, curiously, also quite a bit hotter — I burned my tongue, but kept spooning it up anyway.
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Also on the menu: We loved the bok choy ($4), lightly steamed with its leaves still vivid green, crunchy-fresh and topped with lots of garlic. Chili oil wontons ($9.95) were less special, served in a great deal of very spicy, less-than-nuanced orange-red oil. A grilled pork-belly rice sandwich ($5.95) might not be to everyone’s taste, with sometimes fatty pieces of meat lying between two chewy rice pads.
Pro tip: This is perfect food for Netflix, and the Uwajimaya food court makes for a utilitarian dining atmosphere — order online and specify your time, and they’ll have it ready to go.
503 S. Weller St., in the Uwajimaya food court (Chinatown International District), Seattle; 206-556-6498; congeez.com; 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. every day