What's the Difference Between Jook and Congee?

And where does rice porridge fit into all of this?

Photo: Bryan Gardner

Ah, porridge. That old reliable breakfast staple. It's cheap, it's filling, and, if prepared properly, it can be truly delicious. While oats are the favored porridge grain in most Western countries-usually featuring additions like fruit, nuts, and sweeteners-in the Eastern hemisphere a savory porridge with rice as the base is the hands-down favorite. You may have heard it called "jook," "congee," or simply "rice porridge." But what's the difference? Is there a difference? Rice porridge is simply rice cooked in liquid until it's thick and creamy. And you can use that phrase to describe pretty much any iteration of the form. There are many ways to prepare it, so go nuts and dress it up with whatever moves you. As long as there's rice involved, you're good.

Congee refers specifically to the savory rice porridge served in many parts of Asia. It usually has a higher liquid-to-rice ratio and takes longer to cook than regular rice (though the rice used is the same long or short-grain rice as would be used for plain rice), and it is often cooked with minced meat or has meat or seafood mixed in for a one-dish meal. So, congee is a type of rice porridge, but not all rice porridge is congee-like the way all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

Jook gets a step more specific: It's the English translation of the Cantonese name for rice porridge. Use this word when you're talking about the type of congee that originated in Southern China, with a flavor profile typical of that region. Jook is strictly Cantonese-other Asian countries and regions have their own types of congee that cannot be called jook (in Japan rice porridge is called okayu, for example).

Got it? Wow, is anyone else suddenly craving a bowl of rice porridge? Go forth, make jook, and be culturally sensitive while speaking about it. That's what we call having your porridge and eating it, too.

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