Congee, also known as rice gruel, is the king of all comfort food. A good place to try this Chinese nanna dish is at Niko Niko in Chadstone, a clean, no-frills restaurant with tiled floors and laminex tables that occupies two shopfronts on busy Warrigal Road. Young waiters are swift, attentive and constantly filling up your plastic tumbler with hot tea.
While glistening roast meats such as duck, pork and chicken on rice are a popular choice (hear the constant thwack, thwack of the cleaver on the chopping board), it’s the congee that really shines. Feel the anticipation heighten as a bubbling, steaming hot pot is delivered to your table and take note when the waiter says, ‘hot, hot!’
After you’ve burned the roof of your mouth, you’ll notice the texture. It’s velvety and smooth, cooked long enough so that the grains of rice have perfectly disintegrated into a creamy soup. The flavours are clean with a subtle hint of ginger and chicken stock, and the colour is a light white. Good combinations are the duck and fish, with a generous serve of roast duck, or good old chicken with tender pieces of thigh meat.
For added intrigue, order the ‘Chinese donut’. These deep-fried, chewy sticks of dough can be dunked into the congee just like giant croutons.
When winter, illness or homesickness hit, head to Niko Niko for the restorative powers of congee. You may not notice it harmonising your digestion or increasing your chi, but it will fill you up and leave you feeling like you’ve just been hugged by a polar bear.