The best congee toppings, including traditional and modern idea, to take your home-made Cantonese rice porridge to the next level.
What is congee?
Congee, also known as jook, is a type of Cantonese rice porridge which has a thick, slightly starchy but also silky texture. It is eaten by Asians for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even as a snack.
The key to a bowl of congee is its texture- other than rice, the rest of the ingredients are negotiable. You could have a bowl of totally plain congee that just consists of silky white rice, or a pimped up version with seafood- dried scallops are often added to congee to give them umami, as in this fresh and dried scallop congee & this abalone jook.
It is often served with side dishes and some toppings. Scroll down for a list of congee toppings & garnishes, that will make even a bowl of plain white porridge irresistible! If paired with flavoured congee, these toppings are meant to complement the ingredients as well as to make the congee look more attractive.
- You can use brown rice, or add other grains such as barley, to make the bowl of rice congee healthier, but it will make the jook less smooth.
There are many different ways: from using short grain rice which breaks down more easily, to soaking the rice or freezing it before cooking, to adding dried beancurd to the pot.
Spring onions form part of the Holy Trinity of Chinese cooking and they're not only stir-fried but also used as garnishes. They provide bursts of freshness, especially when accompanied with a drizzle of sesame oil, and also make the bowl of rice congee look more attractive.
If you don't have scallions on hand, coriander or sawtooth coriander helps to provide a the pleasing pop of green when added to a bowl of jook.
Alternatively, you can also use garlic chives, which look fairly similar to spring onions.
Ginger is used when cooking most congee and adding a few pieces of julienned fresh ginger helps to complement the flavour of the rice broth.
It goes especially well with meat and seafood congee, as it helps to minimise any unpleasant smells.
Note: in some parts of China, pickled ginger is added instead of fresh.
Some of these traditional congee toppings may also be considered side dishes.
Also known as furu, some people think of fermented tofu as Asian cheese, due to its very savoury and sometimes funky flavour. Not for the faint-hearted, it is delicious with a bowl of plain white jook.
Chinese preserved vegetables can take the form of pickled lettuce, bamboo shoots, zha cai etc and are often served with or on top of a bowl of porridge. I used to make my own preserved cucumbers when I lived in London and they were super easy to make yet ever so tasty- must get round to sharing the recipe one day!
Preserved radish (Chye Poh)
Chye Poh, or Chinese preserved radish, comes in both sweet and savoury forms. This taste good with congee, or when fried with eggs. Many famous savoury carrot cake stalls in Singapore use them in their recipes!
Although pork floss is the most common, there is also fish floss, chicken floss etc- these are all very popular congee toppings in Singapore, and many tourists in Singapore buy packets to give to friends at home.
Salted duck eggs
Alternatively, these salted eggs are actually prized for their rich yolks, which is used to make a delicious salted egg sauce e.g. salted egg tofu - don't toss the whites away, as many recipes ask you to- it's super wasteful as the whites on their own go very well with congee.
These deep fried dough sticks are often cut into small slices and sprinkled on top of bowls of congee in Hong Kong. They're actually 1 of my favourite porridge toppings!
Slowly cook sliced garlic or minced garlic in hot oil till crispy and golden brown. These golden nuggets are crunchy and delicious- you can sprinkle them on your bowl of rice porridge, over noodles or on regular stir-fry dishes.
Tip: don't throw away the oil that the garlic was cooking in- it's full of flavour and is delicious spooned over noodle soups! Remember to keep it in the fridge and to use within 3-4 days for food safety.
As with the garlic, shallots are sliced thinly and fried till crunchy and golden brown. They're so good scooped on to Asian dishes! As with the garlic oil, the shallot oil is a delicious condiment that can be used to stir fry Chinese dishes.
Fried dried shrimp
These small dried shrimp are full of umami and, in my house, we often fry them, then sprinkle them on stir-fries and porridge.
Fried ikan bilis and peanuts
Ikan bilis and kacang are very popular in Singapore and Malaysia (Ikan bills is a small fish, sort of like an Asian anchovy.) They provide a nice pleasing crunch in contrast to the goo-ey congee texture.
Toasted pumpkin seeds
I loooove peanuts but after a friend told me that many peanuts contain aflatoxins, which can lead to cancer and other diseases, I decided we should cut back a little. (We usually eat a lot of peanuts in my household.)
Instead of always topping my congee with fried peanuts, I sometimes use dry fried pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, which have a similar pleasing contrasting texture.
Now this is non-traditional, but I love my spicy food, so I like to drizzle my rice porridge with spicy chilli!
Pan fried Spam
Spam, or luncheon meat is super unhealthy but very popular in Asia (especially Korea.) Rice congee can be quite light, as there's no oil in it (unless you eat fatty meat or sesame oil) so frying some minced spam pieces provides a deliciously savoury contrast.
When I was a kid, we sometimes drizzled marmite or bovril over plain rice congee, but I think this may just be because my Father used to go to boarding school in England. I've not seen any other Chinese family eat Marmite with their porridge, but it does taste good- you should give it a try one day!
What are some of your favourite congee toppings? Let me know if I've missed anything out!