Comfort food: chao ga (rice congee with chicken)

After my last post, I am struggling to write new posts. Below is something I drafted a while ago, and had not quite got around to pressing the ‘publish post’ button. It is appropriate because it is a recipe for the ultimate comfort food – chao ga (rice congee with chicken).

I have mentioned before that when I am feeling sick, I want to eat chao – rice congee. If I am at home, my mother would cook this for me; although after I moved out of home, I did not tell my mother when I was sick because she would berate me. Because somehow, I am to blame if I catch a cold.

More than a month ago now, I had the flu. It was awful. For one day, I was in bed tossing and turning, moaning deliriously. I could have been a heroine in a Jane Austen novel, and soon the man of my dreams would leap onto his horse to ride hastily with news for my family of the dire state I was in. In reality, the man of my life telephoned work to tell them I was ill and to ask someone to re-arrange a few appointments for me.

When I recovered, I had a lingering cough, so I did not telephone my mother to speak with her for a while. After a few weeks passed, and with the cough still present, I had to call my mum. So I did. The phone rang and rang. It’s terrible of me, but I was glad she was not at home. So I rang my brother to have a chat with him, but he was not at home either. Next, I tried my sister. Thankfully, she was at home, otherwise I would have got all morose.

I hoarsely chatted to my sister, coughing and spluttering occassionally. She asked me about the cough and I told her that I had been so sick that I had taken a week – an entire week! – off work, and that I spent most of the time in bed, unable even to read. She commiserated. Suddenly, I blurted out, “But don’t tell Um! Don’t tell her I was that sick. She’ll worry.”

On one of the days I was home from work, I made a huge pot of chicken congee. I think it cured me (minus that lingering cough).

For the congee:-

  • 200gms chicken (whatever part suits you. I used breast, but thighs would also have been great).
  • Garlic
  • Ginger, about a cm of, sliced
  • Carrot, one, diced
  • Fish sauce, splash
  • Jasmine rice, a cup of, or thereabouts
  • Water, a lot
  • Coriander for garnish
  • Ngo gai (perennial coriander, also known as sawtooth or Thai coriander. I don’t know why it’s called Thai coriander because coriander coriander is also used in Thai cooking, and ngo gai is used in Thai and Viet cooking (and possibly other cuisines, I just don’t know). Probably has other names too.)

How to cook it:-

  • In a decent sized saucepan and on medium heat, saute the garlic in as small amount of oil as you can manage.
  • Toss in the rice and stir it quickly around the saucepan.
  • Pour in enough water to thoroughly cover the rice.
  • Add your chicken, ginger and carrot.
  • Pour in enough water to cover everything.
  • Let the whole mixture boil briskly for about ten minutes.
  • Extract the chicken. Let it cool, then tear into strips and put back into the saucepan.
  • Turn the heat down and let the chao simmer until the rice grains have taken in so much water that they cannot take anymore. You cannot leave the saucepan – you can wander away but you must not forget it. You will need to keep topping up with water, so have some pre-boiled water handy.
  • When the chao is the consistency you like – my Ba and I are at the extremities of the chao consistency spectrum: he prefers his rice grains a bit al dente and his water a clearish broth; I prefer my rice grains thoroughly soft and the chao water thick with the broken up, water sodden rice grains – add a splash of fish sauce. For the way my Ba likes chao, the simmering part only takes about 15 minutes. For the way I like chao, the simmering takes an hour.
  • Turn the heat off, let cool for about 5 minutes and then serve into nice bowls, with garnish, cracked pepper and soy sauce.

Easy as!

Although, given that I crave this when I am sick, it is sometimes just too much effort and I will pout instead. Does not work to make my tummy full, but makes me feel a bit better.



  1. Ooh, I think I will make this. It’s just the weather here and I think I’m on the verge of a cold.


  2. I wonder what your mom would think if she knew your feelings. Chao ga is definitely a comfort food.


  3. Oooh I love chao ga. Particularly when I’m unwell.

    I am going to make this too! I have a cold as well, there’s really nothing better when you need comfort.


  4. ooh, it is definitely comforting. I like using mince chicken as well, just tap a spoonful of mince chicken against the pot and let it cook until done. When I’m really ill I just made plain chao with a poached egg.


  5. I brought GUAIA with me to Wollongong for the Australian Literature conference. Just re-read your piece. Still lovin’ it. 😀


  6. Kirsty and Legal Eagle – I hope the chao ga (and I hope you added even more garlic than my recipe calls for) chased your nascent colds away!

    Nikkipolani – Um would probably berate me for keeping things away from her, then berate me for being sad, then berate me for being sick. I know she loves me, but she can only express her concern by scolding me. Much like a mother with a child who has just done something dangerous – you want to hug the darn thing to you for scaring it so, but you end up yelling at it instead.

    Hedgehog – I find mince chicken kind of disturbing. I’m not sure why.

    My even lazier variation is plain chao with eggs scrambled with fish sauce. Or a boiled egg mashed up with fish sauce. Or plain chao with salted preserved radish.

    LBW – Thank you to your husband! Your lil one might like some of this as well. And if you feed him heaps, maybe he will sleep?

    Tseen – Aw, shucks. Thank you.


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