Back in my wild and misspent youth, one of the most memorable characters I use to hang out with was a beautiful person named Eddie. He was Chinese, and  was the center of a group whom we termed, The Gang of Four. It was Eddie, myself, Larry (another Chinese guy), and Henry, who is Irish.

After work we would all meet at Lucy Jung’s restaurant on Canal Street. Larry was the manager at Lucy Jung’s, and we would keep him company, drinking and carrying on until the restaurant closed. Then we would go bar hopping in Chinatown. This was the era  when Chinatown had numerous watering holes such as the Golden Valley, The Hon Gong, and Winnies. They’re all closed now. The new generation sits behind laptops and tablets, staring at screens in the local Starbuck’s. The camaraderie that we all knew, is now gone.

Anyway, after a night of drinking, at around 3 or 4 a.m. we would end up in a little hole in the wall restaurant on Doyer’s Street, where we would all have a heaping bowl of congee. This would, hopefully, sober us up so that we could all shuffle to work that same morning—and then start up the same ritual the following evening. As the song says, we were young and surely had our way.

Eddie is no longer with us, but the other guys still are; although we all much older now, and somewhat wiser, all happily married,  and with families. But the memories still linger. Especially of congee, and it’s sobering affects.  Congee, also known as jook, is a hearty stew, more like a rice porridge. It’s popular throughout China, Laos, and Thailand. It can be served as a breakfast, lunch, or dinner dish. It’s simple and delicious. All you need is hot broth (or plain water will do), rice and some meat thrown in. The congee we had in Chinatown was made with pork meatballs. But you can prepare it with chicken, beef, or even fish.

The following is Eddie’s recipe for congee (or jook, as he preferred to call it).

CONGEE

Ingredients:

1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon Bell’s All Natural Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of ground white pepper
1/4 cup finely sliced scallions
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 quart chicken broth, or water
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1/2 cup jasmine rice
1 tablespoon fish sauce (can be found in any Asian market)
3 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
Fried garlic oil (recipe follows below)

Instructions:

  1. Place ground pork in a mixing bowl. Mix in Bell’s seasoning, oregano, white pepper, scallions, and salt, if using. Set aside.
  2.  In a wok or soup pot, combine the broth (or water) and ginger. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add jasmine rice, cover and lower heat to  a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Add the pork in tablespoon-sized meatballs.
  3.  Let the mixture simmer for another 15 minutes. Add the fish sauce, transfer to a large serving bowl. Garnish with cilantro and fried garlic oil, and serve. If you prefer,  can also  serve the congee in small individual bowls, and each person can add garnish as desired. Your choice.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Fried Garlic OiI: In a small fry pan, cook 2 cloves garlic (finely minced), in 2 tablespoons olive oil. When garlic is slightly
browned, remove from heat and add to congee.