HK-style congee (jook in Cantonese), is probably the favourite comfort food amongst most local Hong Kongers, and when it comes to making a heartwarming bowl of rice porridge, Sang Kee Congee Shop (生記粥品專家) is my pick for the most trusted place to ensure that every diner walks away with a nourished stomach and an uplifted spirit.
Jook has always been an essential part of my daily life, something I eat on a regular basis, whether it’s a bowl of plain and creamy rice porridge that I sip for breakfast to cleanse my digestive system or a bowl topped with various ingredients that I slurp for a hearty lunch.
While most of my Western friends consider chicken noodle soup to be a “flu fighter”, congee is the elixir for me when I get sick; it’s warm and gentle on the body, full of nutritional value. Even on a sweltering summer’s day, congee still draws the crowds because it’s believed to help your body to become recharged after sweating a lot, and I remember my mum used to often make minced pork or chicken congee for me and my sister during our summer break. The feeling of finishing a delectable and nourishing bowl of congee is indescribable.
When I first heard Chua Lam announce cheerfully on his YouTube channel that Sang Kee is the best congee shop in Hong Kong, I immediately wanted to try it. In fact, if you search for Sang Kee Congee Shop online, you will see lots of people raving about this 40-year-old eatery tucked away on Burd Street in Sheung Wan.
Sang Kee is a small, family-owned restaurant that has witnessed the growth and change of the Sheung Wan neighbourhood since the late 1960s. It began as a humbe food stall, and Sang Kee has now expanded to include three other branches that offer beef brisket noodles and other small bites beyond rice porridge. However, the original Sang Kee continues to only offer congee.
“It’s my go-to place whenever I’m in the mood for congee. I’ve been going to the original Sang Kee for more than 10 years, and even the owner remembers me,” my friend Janis exclaimed when I expressed my desire to check out this popular joint.
When we arrived at Sang Kee at 12:15pm during the lunchtime rush, there were quite a few people waiting for their takeaways outside the shop, while the quaint interior was almost fully seated. Even if it’s still scorching hot outside, that doesn’t deter people from stopping by Sang Kee for a bowl of congee!
The interior of the restaurant is basic and simple, with only three tables separated by partitions and a small dining bench with stools. On the right side of the entrance is a tiny kitchen, and this is where the magic happens.
Fish belly congee is an undeniably famous dish at Sang Kee, and like most of the congee shops in Hong Kong, they primarily use grass carp.
“I come back for work at 2:30am every morning to prepare the soup base for our congee,” Ming Gor, the younger brother of the owner, stated firmly on Chua Lam’s YouTube channel. The soup base, the secret weapon behind Sang Kee’s much-loved congee, is slow-cooked for hours with pork bones, lean pork meat and pork belly in a large, stainless-steel tank in order to draw out the flavours. Afterwards, rice is added to the rich broth, which is boiled on high heat and then simmered on low heat for a few more hours until the congee achieves a creamy thickness and the texture becomes soft and silky-smooth.
When a diner’s order is placed, the chef takes a large scoop of the plain congee from the stainless-steel tank and pours it into several copper pots, where it will be boiled again. Then different raw ingredients are added to these pots and cooked until their flavours are ingrained in the congee.
I was amused by the variety of congee on offer, with interesting combinations of ingredients on the menu. You can choose either regular, combo or deluxe combo sizes, depending on the number of ingredients you’d like to include. After contemplating this menu with its overwhelming options, Janis and I both chose the combo size. Janis ordered Sang Kee’s famous grass carp belly and fish ball congee, and I opted for the fish fillet congee with a slightly unique ingredient: sliced pig’s heart. Innards are quite common in Cantonese and other Asian cuisines, although some Westerners might feel squeamish about eating them.
We also ordered yauh ja gwai, the Chinese fried dough sticks that are the perfect accompaniment to congee. Since both our orders included fish, two small plates of homemade dipping soy sauce with fresh ginger and scallion were brought over to our table. Normally, diners dip the fish fillet or belly into the soy sauce, making it more savoury.
I sauntered over to the food pick-up counter, where the congee was boiling and bubbling over the stoves inside the kitchen. The way the chefs methodically roll five different copper pots and vigorously stir the congee with pairs of long chopsticks to prevent burning is just like orchestrating a symphony.
When our steaming-hot congee bowls arrived, my face was beaming with excitement. The serving size was generous, and the ingredients we selected were bountiful. The moment I guided a spoonful of congee into my mouth, the velvety texture enriched with the fresh flavours of the ingredients was so soothing that it instantly took me back to memory lane. It was truly scrumptious! This is exactly the tasty, therapeutic congee I have always revered, a soulful bowl made with care and compassion, just like the one my mum cooks for me back home.
The pig’s heart slices were al dente and delicious, without any intense gamy flavour, also surpassing my expectations. Janis was content with her choice, and she let me try one of the fish balls from her bowl.
“Hey, long time no see.” Janis’ face lit up when she saw Fan Jer, the owner of Sang Kee, appear. Fan Jer is known for her incredible memory – she never has to jot down diners’ orders. She was pleased when I told her I was writing an English article about her congee shop, although she wasn’t sure if Westerners would truly appreciate this humble Cantonese delicacy.
Part of the reason I wanted to write about congee is because this dish goes beyond comfort food for many Cantonese. It also induces a sense of belonging that reminds us of family, loved ones and home. Our souls can be comforted with a warm and nourishing bowl of congee.
If cold drinks or ice lollies are usually what you opt for to cool down in the oppressive heat, perhaps try a bowl of congee next time, and you might be surprised how your mind, body and soul feel afterwards.
7 Burd Street, Sheung Wan, 2541 1099 (open daily, 6:30am–8:30pm, except Sunday and public holidays)
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