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Colleague crushes my porridge cravings in an instant

Updated: 2023-06-01 07:58 ( China Daily )
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When a colleague was pouring boiling hot water into a mug containing some grainy yellow powder, I asked her if it was soy milk. She said it wasn't. Then, I said it must be porridge. She apparently couldn't understand what I said, and she walked to her seat.

However, she soon reappeared at my work station with a sachet containing the same powder she had poured into her mug earlier, showed it to my coworker sitting by my side and explained something in Chinese.

My coworker told me it was "instant porridge" powder, also called congee in Chinese. That meant my second guess was right.

The colleague handed me the "instant congee "sachet and asked me to try it at home. Before my colleague went back to her seat, I got a couple of names of congee brands from her that I could buy online. Later, I tried the contents of the sachet she gave me, and I loved it.

Incidentally, my coworker and I have been discussing congee for quite some time, and I had asked her for the names of restaurants in Beijing that serve it.

With limited vegetarian options, I had been contemplating trying this dish, introduced to me by an Indian colleague in 2019. It came as a surprise that the options were plenty, and I tried something I'd never had before. I was floored. I knew it wasn't going to be a one-off visit, and I soon became a frequent visitor to that eatery. Unfortunately, it has since shut.

I began my search for another porridge restaurant. An online inquiry yielded several results, and I zeroed in on one that was part of a restaurant chain, and porridge was also on its menu.

I set off for the nearest branch and, upon arrival, quickly scanned through the menu. The options left me salivating. Pumpkin porridge, millet porridge with red dates (jujube), yam porridge with red dates, mixed-grain porridge, and five-vegetable porridge were just some of the options on offer.

I would have preferred to try at least two, but decided to order one. I opted for pumpkin porridge. One bowl was quite heavy, and I felt contented, and my hunger satiated.

I did have some difficulty in making the right choice. While a picture is worth a thousand words, the ones in the menu left me in a state of confusion.

While I was struggling to understand the contents of each type of porridge, a customer seated on the adjacent table happened to see my predicament and came to my rescue.

He wanted to know what I was looking for. When I said I was looking for vegetarian porridge, he promptly pointed at the options available, explaining the ingredients in each of them. I couldn't thank him enough. I knew this wouldn't be my last visit.

Incidentally, congee isn't new to Indian culture. During my younger days, our elders gave us congee — called ganji in Kannada, the language spoken in the Indian state of Karnataka — whenever we fell sick or had an upset tummy.

Sooji is the word used for semolina in North India. In the South, semolina is called rawa. Ganji is made by boiling semolina in either milk or water. It is sometimes served with sugar or honey, and served hot in a bowl.

In those days, doctors hardly ever prescribed antibiotics for fever patients. The treatment included some bitter medicine along with a strict diet, mostly comprising ganji, bread and milk. Most people loathed the doctor-prescribed diet when they were sick, but relished it when in good health.


Manjunath R. Setty



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