Lasang Pinoy 22: Congee

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This beautiful entry is written by Erwin Ines for Lasang Pinoy 22 – Rice to the Challenge hosted by Cooked from the Heart. Blogging from Toronto, Canada, this is Erwin’s 3rd time to join Lasang Pinoy. Read his other articles listed here.

Tubong Lugaw

Outside is totally white and blustery. Toronto is experiencing one hell of a storm today; the worst after nearly sixty years as the radio announced very early this morning. Unfortunately, today is a Sunday, and I’m scheduled to work, and I did. I worked for 3.5 hours from my usual 8 or 9; being cut off as customers slowly trickled into the restaurant. I expected to be cut. I volunteered to be cut. I anticipated it, but the idea of working 7 days a week for the next 3 weeks is beyond me. A few hours reprieve from the kitchen is a big sigh of relief. I also get the chance to clean my apartment; cook dinner and what have you.

Upon leaving work, I decided to pass by the liquor store and bought a couple of bottles of Soju, a strong Korean spirit that I’ve learned to drink on cold, nasty weather like this one. It’s also cheaper compared with Canadian Whiskey or Vodka. Soon, I know, I’ll be cooking with them. But whatever, wine just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I’ve also thought of drowning myself in Rum maybe over the holidays just to keep myself warm and upbeat every morning when I wake up to do the same bloody routine again until the 31st. Jamaican Rum’s alcohol level is at 63%, much stronger than Soju, and sure does provide that healthy kick and punch, if drank moderately.

In Manila, where the climate is as hot and humid as a car’s muffler, some kind of deep-fried spicy food with white vinegar and an ice cold San Miguel provides that comfort. In my case, I’d stick to those hot egg noodle soups topped with beef or chicken and paired with the best tea in Manila’s Chinatown. They are just perfect before or after my weekly Tai Chi classes, next to Dim sum (chicken feet!!). One of my favourites however, is the Chicken or Plain Congee. It’s just magic, and I never knew how it was so easy to prepare, until now.


A cup or two of long grain Jasmine Rice
Chicken Stock
A heap of Salt
Green Onions
Sesame Oil
Egg (Optional)
Chinese Bread (Optional)

1. Allow the chicken stock to simmer in a small saucepan.
2. Add the rice & salt and stir vigorously until the right consistency is achieved.
3. Grate the ginger while the rice and stock are slowly thickening.
4. Chop some green onions and add to the mixture. Continue stirring.
5. Drizzle with Sesame Oil and, garnish with julienned green onions and ginger.

The secret in any good, flavourful cooking is a freshly made stock or broth. Bouillon cubes from the supermarket will just ruin the essence of Congee. This dish is so simple, but the broth I had previously stored made a whole lot of difference. When I cooked my first ever Congee, I had some left over broth from my White Chicken (another favourite of mine). I had to resort to Congee when my pantry was running low on processed food and aromatics (bacon, sausage, eggs, green peppers, onions) for breakfast. I didn’t have the time nor some cash to shop, and all I had was some freshly made chicken broth, chicken bones, rice, and of course salt. That night I decided to experiment with Congee and was quite jolly about the outcome. In the morning, I just added more chicken stock and salt to adjust the consistency and taste. This dish will further stand out if served with that long Chinese bread you see in many noodle houses. I had forgotten what it was called, but I saw a pack sold in the Asian grocery in the suburbs and bought one. It perfectly matched the Congee, and totally satisfied my hunger. This will also become more flavourful if a beaten egg is added at the last minute.


It’s another Christmas and from the looks of it, winter will be long, grim and surely white. In my case, 2007 was not exactly a milestone year, but a year of learning and realization. I bet 2008 will blow and howl like this winter storm, and tougher for many. I hope I can still continue and sustain my momentum in the future. No one knows what lies ahead, but bills still have to be paid, snow has to be shovelled, and no matter what, the world will tell us that it’s time to simplify things, as simple as cooking Congee.

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When I was growing up, my parents and I used to eat out and try different restaurants after celebrating the Sunday Mass. Moreover, during the course of the summer break, I had the opportunity to see some places which, when looking back, I had never realized how lucky I was as a teen to be able to travel. My family and I went to Europe and some parts of the United States, and what I saw along that path of my life inspired me to become a 'Chef.' The 'whites' they wore for me, during those growing-up and finding 'myself' years, portrayed a sort of fascinating and powerful figure in an extremely sophisticated, higly inviting and invigorating work place; and still maintain an unblemished and clean uniform after a very busy service. That picture of a 'Chef' stuck to my head for so many years.

True enough, with meager resources left to spend for the youngest, that dream never happened. Life went on. I went to university and studied an insignificant course, Business Management, and after graduating, I ended up working as a Credit and Financial Analyst in the banking industry in Manila; slugging it out in the corporate arena in Makati. It was the first taste of being called a 'yuppie' and was almost always looking forward to an after-office eating and drinking extravaganza in the expanding and growing Makati Business District; and, of course, the weekend.

Anyway, forging ahead to my life today, that dream as 'Chef' stayed in the back of my mind all the time that when I left the Philippines for Toronto in 2003; and after finally settling down on my own in 2005, I had started studying Professional Culinary Arts Courses in the City College to get that almost long-forgotten 'dream' going again. It was a Continuing Education Course, and more or less, students who have also shifted careers or who were trying to find work (like myself) as a newly landed found ourselves working with pots, knives and fire which I believe and I felt, everyone in class have never, ever touched during their past, professional lives.

Since then, I have been working in and out of different kitchens; flipping eggs and hamburgers, grilling steaks, shoving bread and chicken in a 500'C oven, and almost anything that can be either deep-fried or toasted just to serve hungry, sometimes pesky, customers. I became a 'grease' cook; a short-order cook with no definite place of employment, and definitely not a 'Chef.'

My articles are based on the after-thoughts of my past and present day experiences in this fast-paced, starkling, and sometimes disheveling kitchen environment. I never imagined that a kitchen 'worklife' turned that way as against the 'Ideal' environment I had thought about for years. No regrets. During this journey, I've discovered food which I've never thought I'd be able to taste. I learned to appreciate wine and travel more; now that I have understood the culture of food to society. That was non-existent when I was growing up.

This journey has not ended. I'm still discovering and still learning. It's a tough industry to be in and for what's next or for where I'll finally end up in remain a sordid mystery.

10 thoughts on “Lasang Pinoy 22: Congee

  1. Iska and Erwin, thanks for submitting this entry for LP22.

    I love lugaw! I just made some last week when it got cold :) Not only the perfect recipe to feature rice, it’s also great comfort food.

  2. Lani, happy new year to you too!

    JMom, it’s a very interesting theme imposibleng hindi makapag-participate kahit na busy kami :-)

    Burnt Lumpia, i was also confused before. How would i know the difference? Thanks for your entry and Erwin’s ;-)

    Hi Stef! I am also quite glad Erwin submitted another enrty for Lasanag Pinoy…

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