Like many words related to Rice culture, the word Congee appears to come from an Indian language, in this case, from Tamil kañci. The term is said originally to refer to the water in which Rice has been boiled, used to starch clothes or as a food for invalids.
The Chinese term (Mandarin zhou 粥 , Cantonese jook) basically refers to a Rice or Millet gruel or partridge.
In any case, Congee is a form of gruel or partridge in which a very small amount of Rice is cooked with a great deal of Water, very slowly for a long time. The resulting porridge is typically served early or late in one’s life, or early or late in the day.
There are many variations in the cuisines of the Pacific Rim, and some Chinese restaurants serve little or nothing else as their main menu. Here’s a basic Chinese recipe for Congee. It is commonly made with Glutinous Rice 糯米, but any variety will do.
½ cup Rice
3 – 4 cups water
1 pinch Salt, or to taste
Wash the Rice and put it in a pot with the Water and a pinch of Salt. You may use Glutinous Rice 糯米, ordinary Rice, or a mixture of Rice types.
Bring the Water to a boil and simmer over low fire until it becomes a thin gruel. This will take at least 40 minutes. If you do not finish it all the first time it is cooked, it seems to taste even better when it is reheated a second day. This is probably the simplest way to make Congee, and it may be flavored with a variety of additional ingredients and flavorings, as desired.
In this form, Rice is considered to be more easily digestible, making it a suitable food for children, the elderly, invalids and other sick people, persons suffering from hangover, or anyone who wants a light meal.
Different forms of Rice Porridge or Congee are popular across the Pacific Rim, as in Korean Mushroom Congee, Japanese style Congee with Chicken, or a very nice Indian variety. There’s also another Japanese Congee with Milk.