Congee is an English language word for a gruel or porridge made of rice. Most English speakers, however, are unfamiliar with the word. I ate a form of congee when I was young, when my mother and older sisters treated it just like farina or oatmeal. I can’t remember what they called it. More than likely it had sugar added to make it sweet, but I really don’t remember.
Although I can’t remember when, I’ve eaten it many times in both the United States and the Philippines. After all, I’ve been married to a Filipino, Josie, for a very long time. Filipinos have a bunch of different names for it, depending on how it’s cooked, but they never call it congee, gruel, or porridge. The most common name for it in Tagalog is lugaw.
Congee Instead of Heavier Dishes
When you add meat or vegetables to it, the name changes to something else. Josie has prepared aroskaldo for me a few times, with chicken and ginger as a couple of the ingredients. If you take Lugaw and add some cocoa powder, it becomes tsamporado (pronounced “champorado“). These days, parents in the Philippines are more likely to add Milo because you can find it at all the neighborhood mini-stores. I’ve never eaten it and I probably never will.
Heavier foods can make me feel bloated, even when I’ve eaten very little meat. I can’t blame it on any meat in particular, and they all seem to have the same effect on me at times. One of the reasons I avoid soft drinks is because they make me feel bloated, even if I only have one. Anyway, I can have one form of congee or another to replace any meal of the day, and it suits me just fine. It’s obviously not the only thing I’ll eat. It’s just one of the many “light” dishes I can enjoy.
I didn’t know what the word “porridge” meant until I was already old enough to be a grandfather. Most Americans know the names of the products and what the ingredients are, and never use that specific word. The products become a porridge when cooked (usually boiled).
You may know them as oatmeal (oats), farina (wheat) and grits (corn or hominy). Many Americans can remember brand names, even if they can’t remember ingredients. Grits are popular in the American South, so I wouldn’t know any brand names for them, since I never spent any time there. For oatmeal, it’s Quaker Oats. For farina, it’s Cream of Wheat or Malt-O-Meal.
Goldilocks and Her Porridge
The first time I noticed the word was when I was reading the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” fairy tale as a child. Goldilocks ate it while the bears took a walk to wait for the porridge to cool down. The story never mentioned what kind of porridge it was.
I heard this nursery rhyme when I was already an adult, and it probably had nothing to do with Goldilocks:
Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold,
Peas porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old
Made from peas? Yuck.
Oatmeal, Grits, Farina, and Congee
I almost always have oats in the house. I usually buy Quaker Oats, but not always. Josie eats it more often than I do. It tends to make me feel full regardless of how much I eat of it. I ate grits for the first time after her Aunt Sarah left our house in 2015. She had left a container of grits behind. Once she found out I liked them, she sent me another container of it when she sent some balikbayan boxes to us. Grits make me feel as full as oatmeal. I won’t eat them frequently for that very reason.
My mother boiled Cream of Wheat when I was young. The taste didn’t bother me, but it always had lumps in it. A person could choke to death on those lumps. I haven’t eaten any brand of farina since I left home in 1978, even though a Malt-O-Meal commercial advertisement aired regularly for at least a year. Good stuff, Maynard! Farina is not to be confused with harina, the Spanish and Tagalog word for flour (also made from wheat).
Congee is one type of food I don’t have to specifically buy. We always have rice in the house.