Sunday, January 06, 2008


It's flu season in the US, and some of us have had to deal with a touch of the grippe. Still, that doesn't put a dent in our eating/hunting habits. There is always congee to provide warm, bland, stomach soothing comfort.Congee is rice gruel. Basically, boil rice in a lot of water for hours and hours, add flavoring and what have you, and slurp. It is usually eaten for breakfast, and just about every Asian cuisine tradition has a version.I had never really given congee much attention until this year. Fumie started going on a congee crusade when she arrived, mainly because so much of the American diet was so different that she usually needed something bland - and Asian - to settle her stomach. And since we seemed to spend a lot of time in the Lower East side and east Chinatown, congee seemed the answer.Congee Village (100 Allen Street) is an upscale Cantonese restaurant set up for those who are looking for expensive specialties like shark fin soup or abalone. Unless you want congee, which is about $3.50 a bowl. On one menu page everything is between $18 and $45 and seems to be made from bird's nests. On the other page, congees under $5.They also make excellent noodle dishes, like this classic cantonese beef chow fun. Sticking with the rice theme, these are thick rice noodles. My discovery of chow fun dates from 1982, and it became the lunch of my years in Boston. I used to bicycle down to Chinatown from my job at BU at least twice weekely during lunch hour for take out chow fun.Also in the rice noodle family, Singapore style mei fun, thin rice noodles fried with shrimp in a light curry sauce. I am very sure I will not have anything this good in Budapest for a long, long time, unless that thing is made from pork and paprika... We are leaving for Hungary later this week... no more dim sum...Another memorable congee was found at the Hsin Wong Restaurant on Baxter st. in central ("tourist") Chinatown.The presence of roast ducks in a Chinese Restaurant window is a pretty good indicator that I want to eat whatever they have inside. I mean, you can at least see the food. It may look like pig intestines, but then, I want to eat pig intestines.At Hsin wong I took the easy road and went for an order of pork spare ribs. these were not the dry, stringy spare ribs that come with the usual take-out bag of chinese food. These were amazing, meaty, moist, and would have to rate a 9.8 on a scale of 10 in the Best Chinese Spare Ribs in the World list.The congee.One feature of chopped roast duck places is that they usually are cheap and they serve noodle soup. Hsin Wong was one of the better noodle soups I have had in New York. Beef with shrmp wonton and vegetables...The proper side dish to a chinese soup meal is a plate of green vegetables with oyster sauce.

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