Congee is the proper English word for rice porridge. Most English speakers, however, are unfamiliar with the word and probably because it sounds Asian. I ate a form of congee when I was young, when my mother and older siblings (the oldest women) treated it just like farina or oatmeal. They called it rice something back then but I really don’t remember.
I’ve eaten it a few times since I moved to the Philippines in 2006. Filipinos have a bunch of different names for it, depending on how it’s cooked, but they never call it porridge. The most common name for in Tagalog is lugaw.
When you add meat or vegetables to it, the name changes to arroz caldo or aroskaldo. It sounds Spanish and that’s because it’s Spanish-influenced.
If you take Lugaw and add some cocoa powder, it becomes tsamporado (pronounced “champorado”). These days, parents 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 tend to make me feel bloated, even when I’ve eaten very little meat. I can’t blame it on any meat in particular (beef, pork, chicken or fish). They all seem to have the same effect on me.
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 prefer.
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, but not 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). You probably don’t know congee is rice. Many Americans can remember the brand names even if they can’t remember the ingredients. Grits are popular in the American South, so I wouldn’t know any brand names for them since I never spent any time in the South. For oatmeal, it’s Quaker Oats. For farina, it’s Cream of Wheat or Malt-O-Meal.
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:
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.
I always have oats in the house. I usually buy Quaker Oats, but not always. My wife, 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 our 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 a container of it when she sent a balikbayan box.
Grits make me feel as full as oatmeal. I won’t eat them often 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 prefer eating plain, shredded wheat.
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).
If memory serves me correctly (and it often doesn’t), I ate a form of rice porridge when I was young. More than likely it had sugar added to make it sweet, but I really don’t remember. Lugaw doesn’t contain any sugar at all and it tastes just fine to me.
Photo Attribution: Judgefloro / CC0
Originally published as two articles at one of my other websites in 2015 and 2017.