Asian Grandmother Jook

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If I were magically in charge of the world, I would decree that everyone should have an Asian grandmother. I’m a big fan of grandmothers in general—though sadly I have none myself—and know they come in all sorts of great varieties. There are Italian grandmothers, Jewish grandmothers, and many more. In my experience, however, there is something special about Asian grandmothers.

I know this, because I’m lucky to have one myself.

She’s not my real grandmother—my family hails from Europe, not Asia. I’m a little too old to be her granddaughter as well. I fall somewhere between the age of her children and grandchildren. But she is, in fact, someone’s grandmother, and she’s adopted me. I’m not sure how I got so lucky.

This is why, a few weeks ago, when I was at my wits end and overwhelmed by the idea of book touring, the phone rang. It was my adopted Asian grandmother. As we talked I started crying and she went into full grandmother mode. “This is what you’re going to do,” she told me. “You’re not going to your apartment, you’re coming to my house. The bed is already made up for you and I’m not taking any arguing.”

Then she called me every four to six hours to make sure I did it. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I know better than to argue with an Asian grandmother.


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When I arrived, late at night after thirteen hours of driving from Seattle, she had left the door open for me. I fell into clean sheets, breathed deeply the scent of daffodils she had put in the spare room for me. And when I woke up the next morning, she made me jook.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tasted jook—one of many rice porridges found throughout Asia (this recipe most closely resembles the Chinese version, also called congee). I’ve tasted it before and was unimpressed. The version I experienced, ordered at a restaurant by a friend, consisted of rice stewed soft and thick,
but it had no flavor. On top were things like barbequed pork and green onions and I figured that the charm of jook was the interplay between the flavorful toppings and the neutral taste of the jook. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t see what the fuss was about. I knew I’d never order it myself.


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Asian Grandmother jook, however, is an entirely different thing—at least the jook my Asian Grandmother makes. The rice tastes of ginger and garlic, thick and comforting. The toppings—chopped celery leaves, dried shallots, pickled radish (shown above)—give it textural interest. There may be meat mixed into the rice as well, but the whole thing is full of flavor. It’s the sort of food that would send a cold or flu packing.

I told my Asian grandmother I had never tasted jook so good, that the other version I’d had had been flavorless.

“That’s because they didn’t love you, darling,” was her reply.


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She told me you should never order jook in a restaurant. “They might cook the rice in broth,” she said. “But when it cools it thickens—and they just thin it with water. You need to use broth if you want it to keep the flavor. Jook is a dish best eaten at home.

I would add that jook is best in the home of a Chinese grandmother, but I’m biased.

I wish I could convey how intensely comforting, how full of flavor, how restorative this dish is. It made me think that perhaps this is how the Chinese developed such an advanced civilization—inventing gunpowder and noodles and tea and Meyer lemons (three of these being things I live for). I also think that the curative properties of jook have not been fully examined. I suspect regular doses may keep any number of ailments at bay, even cure some of the nastier diseases. It’s that good.

It’s crossed my mind that jook may just be the road to world peace. Warring armies would surely put down their guns if they knew that jook was on offer. They’d cradle the warm bowl in their hands and sit down, shoulder to shoulder with their enemies, and all eat together and be happy. That is the power of jook.


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At least that’s the power of jook made by an Asian grandmother. Mine was generous enough to share her recipe with me. I’m not joking when I say I’ve been given the secret code, the keys to the castle, the restorative cure, the way to anyone’s stomach. With a power like this, I might be able to rule the world after all. And if I did, I’d pass a proclamation: jook for everyone!

If you don’t have an Asian grandmother of your own, this recipe is the next best thing. I suggest you whip up a batch. It may just be the cure to whatever ails you.

In the meantime, I’ll get working on that world peace scheme. We could all use a little of that as well. Jook and peace for everyone, and all praise to Asian grandmothers.


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ASIAN GRANDMOTHER JOOK

Recipe courtesy from my adopted Asian grandmother, Lian.

Makes at least four servings.

My adopted grandmother says that jook—like polenta and risotto—is a dish made with loving care and takes some tending. “You can’t just make it and forget about it,” she says. “These are dishes made with love.”

2 cups short grain rice (Cal-rose or sushi variety is fine)

6-8 cups of good quality chicken stock, preferably homemade

3 cups chopped leek, white parts and the tender green bits

1/2 onion, chopped

1 head garlic (about 1/4 cup) minced

1/4 cup ginger, peeled and julienned lengthwise, then cut across into tiny cubes (if you like ginger, you can increase this to 1/2 cup)

3 tbs oil for sautéing

2-3 cups chicken meat or pork, shredded or chopped. This is a great way to use leftovers. If you prefer a vegetarian version you could make without and use vegetable stock, it would just need to be very flavorful.

Toppings, as desired:

Chopped celery leaves

Chopped green onions

Fried shallots

Pickled radishes, chopped finely (chaypo—available in Chinese markets, rinse and soak briefly in white vinegar)

White pepper

Soy sauce

In a large pot, sauté the onion and leek in the oil for two minutes on high. Add the garlic and ginger and cook two minutes more. Add the rice, washing it first, and sauté briefly until the rice is coated in the oil and has become shiny. If the ingredients begin to stick to the pot, add a little bit more oil.

Add 4 cups of the stock, bring to a simmer, cover and turn down the heat to medium. You want a slow simmer.

Keep an eye on the pot (this is where the loving tending comes in). Stir occasionally, and as the liquid decreases, add more, a cup or so at a time. Keep the pot covered in the meantime. The rice will absorb more and more broth, becoming swollen and eventually breaking down into smaller pieces. Keep an eye on it, and slowly add more broth. At a certain point you will notice that the mixture is less individual grains with a clear liquid binding it, but has become more of a porridge, a mixture with lumpy rice bits. This is when you want to pull it off the stove. It will take up to a full hour to get there.

Add the meat, if you are using, and serve with various toppings. The leftover jook will solidify as it cools, but you can loosen it up by adding extra broth. Don’t use water.

Eat, sigh, enjoy. And give thanks for Asian grandmothers everywhere. I do.

Comments

  1. That's a great recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    (Might I also suggest a sliced Century egg and some Chinese donuts–yo tiao–on the side?) Mmm.

  2. Wow…you actually posted it! Lovely post, and thanks so much for gifting us with the recipe. I may very well need to make it myself.

  3. smart woman! never argue with an asian grandma!! you'll never win. :)

    this looks fantastic!!

  4. I haven't had that kind of porridge for a long time and that pickled raddish is so good. I have to get some when i'm in Singapore. I miss century eggs too.

  5. Such a lovely story Tea. Love it!

  6. awh, tea! i love that you have an asian grandmother who makes you jook! :) it's my all-time comfort food, especially when i'm sick. of course, i'm partial to my mom and grandmother's version, but this one here looks pretty spiffy.

  7. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Is there a particular kind of rice you (or your Asian grandma) prefer?

  8. Good question on the rice—I'll ask her and amend the recipe. Thanks for asking.

  9. Lovely story – very moving AND humorous. Thx for being so generous with the recipe, too. I'd love to try it.

  10. Lovely story – very moving AND humorous. Thx for being so generous with the recipe, too. I'd love to try it.

  11. Lovely story – very moving AND humorous. Thx for being so generous with the recipe, too. I'd love to try it.

  12. Lovely story – very moving AND humorous. Thx for being so generous with the recipe, too. I'd love to try it.

  13. What a sweet post.

    I've never had jook before. It looks like wonderful comfort food.

  14. excelsior says:

    You live for gunpowder? :)

    Having been to your AG's house, I can attest to the surroundings as a peaceful, pretty place to eat anything.

  15. I'm going to have to agree. There is absolutely something wonderful about having an Asian grandmother, even when you're totally not related. One of the many reasons I miss living in Japan …

  16. I second the comment about century egg and chinese donuts. This post makes me miss my Chinese aunt who was old enough to be my grandma, and cared for me in my youth.

    When I'm sick, jook is the only thing I crave and will eat. And I swear, I feel better after eating it every time.

  17. Aren't you lucky to have an Asian grandmother who cooks like that and is so willing to share her recipes and her love!

  18. Argh, I so mad at google reader. I'm not sure why, but it stopped showing me your new posts after Feb 14 (ironically the one titled Got Love in Your Life?). Well, there's been no Tea & Cookies in my life.

    I kept thinking it was funny to not see a new post, but I marked it up to your book touring. I luckily have noted your Portland reading this Fri (& saw it on the Powell's calendar), so I stopped by here just to check if any news and found a whole month of postings for me to catch up on! Excited to see your reading, and off I got now to try to fix my darn google reader.

  19. What a sweet story and what a wonderful looking dish. Well worth the drive, I'm sure. Plus those clean fresh sheets and daffodils… You are so lucky.

  20. I'm going to try the Grandmother Jook this weekend!

  21. I wish I had an Asian grandma too. Do you think she would adopt me? I did have an amazing Persian mother-in-law though sadly no longer here. We only knew a little of each others language but we comunicated through the language of food….I learnt to cook Persian food at her elbows…a great way to learn about each others culture and to love each other….

    By the way I've just discovered your blog and am loving it.

  22. Wow. This totally looks so delicious. This is the perfect lunch during winter days. I really think Asian porridge is definitely one of the best ones in the world. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  23. this story made me smile! i have a lovely asian lady in my life (mae) and i am grateful!

  24. I am so glad you blogged this, because I've been craving more ever since you made it for us during your trip. Thank goodness Lian didn't mind sharing the recipe! :)

    If you run across a spare Asian grandmother, please send her my way. On second thought, I'd be just as happy with a Mexican or Italian grandma, too — as long as she liked to cook. :)

  25. Anonymous says:

    Jook and Congee are completely different. Congee is Chinese and jook is Korean. They are made differently.

  26. Anon–thanks for pointing this out. You're right, of course, but I was referring as a whole to the varieties of rice porridge in Asia (I'll clarify the reference). My Asian grandmother is of Chinese descent, but calls her porridge Jook.

  27. That looks incredible!! It's bookmarked to try soon

  28. Hope your book tour find its way to the NJ/NY area :)

  29. This looks divine and I do not eat meat, though this makes me wish I did.

  30. I’ve never had jook before, but I shall definitely try the vegetarian version. Thanks for the recipe. Jook certainly sounds like a wonderful comfort food.

  31. Dear Tea, jook is also delicious made with white fish, and when ill, my family usually make it with fish because they believe it is easier to digest than meat. And a tiny dribble of sesame seed oil and soya sauce on top of a bowl of jook, a sprinkling of white pepper, can bring it even more alive!

    Just my tuppence worth: 'jook' is a Cantonese word for rice porridge, so to Annonymous who claimed it is Korean, nope, am afraid 'jook' is quintessentially Chinese, as millions of Chinese worldwide will testify to. It may well ALSO be Korean, but it is definitely Chinese.

  32. What a treat to have an Asian Grandmother that makes you Jook.

  33. Love this, Tea. Particularly like that she mentioned the jook in restaurants didn't taste as good because it wasn't made with love. Not a bad point–did you ever try the jook at Out The Door in SF? I haven't made it there yet, but hear it's good…Great meeting you at Penny's workshop, by the way. Thank you so much for organizing! Hope you're adjusting to a presumably more mellow schedule up in Seattle for a bit.

  34. Filipinos have a version called arroz caldo. My family makes it with ginger and garlic too and made with real chicken broth and bits of chicken cooked until super tender. It hits the spot for any ailment – mental, physical and spiritual.

  35. Jook. What a lovely, calming word! I get the same feeling as I read down the ingredient list. Topping that is the fact that it comes from a grandma. This has to be amazing.

  36. You are a very luck girl and she is a very lucky grandmother.
    Great post! Lisa

  37. This is definetly my favorite comfort food growing up! I'm blessed to live in a country where I can get it easily. I love it with lots of bean sprouts, yum!!!! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  38. I don't have an Asian grandmother, but I was lucky enough to have an adopted grandmother. It's a blessing to be loved by someone so giving and caring.

  39. i absolutely love jook! I usually make it with 1 cup of long grain rice with 9 cups of broth and 4 cups of water — I add the water to cut down on the saltiness of the broth. It is such a hearty, satisfying soup — I eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

  40. Thanks for a lovely post. My Asian grandmother pretty much raised me and passed away at 95 as elegant and spunky as ever. I got to spend almost every day of her last month with her. I'm glad you have a special grandmother with good taste, too. =)

  41. I loved this story! I love your stories anyway but this one made me give thanks for my Asian grandmother, too, which I probably don't do enough – because she's too busy driving me crazy! But yes, Asian grandmothers are awesome, and jook (or okayu, as mine is called) is awesome too.

  42. (okayu, of course, you also know all about!)

  43. is your grandmother thai?,
    i'm from thailand, and i think it might be the same thing we eat here, it's really easy to make, anyway, your jook looks so yummy;)

  44. Earth–actually, she's Chinese, but this sort of rice porridge is eaten throughout Asia. I've never tried the Thai version, I am sure it is delicious!

  45. my daugher's name a Lian! (she is 14, we became a family in 1996 when we traveled to Zianjang to bring her home – she was 5 1/2 months old then).

    Lovely blog and recipe – so glad I found it – thank you

  46. LadyRose–how lovely. Perhaps this recipe will become part of your family too. I'll pass your story on to my "grandmother." I know she'll be delighted.

  47. Wow! I’m a believer just from reeading this. Thank you for such elegant, descriptive prose.
    (My Jewish gransmother always said she cooked with love and butter.)

  48. At first I didn’t like congee, jook, or zhou as it is called in Mandarin either, but when I lived in Beijing for two years, there was a shop downstairs from our apartment that specialized in jook and sold all different varieties. My favorite included sweet red beans and peanuts. Now I am a complete convert as well and will have to try your delicious looking recipe since I am back in the US.

    To answer the question about what type of rice is used, I’m pretty sure standard Chinese short white rice is the standard, but the shop had many versions that included a variety of rices and grains (barley for example). Red beans and mung beans are delicious in sweet jook. There’s also cold varieties that often include fruit sold in the summer.

  49. Growing up as a third-generation Chinese in Malaysia, I have a lot to say about jook. It’s actually Cantonese for what’s known as “congee.” (I’m of Cantonese descent.) In Mandarin, it’s pronounced as “zhou.” (I don’t think you have the “zh-” sound in English; my American friends can’t seem to pronounce any words that begin with “zh-” properly.) But it’s written the same way in both the Chinese dialects – 粥. Jook is our comfort food, it’s like the food you serve to your loved ones when they’ve fallen ill – just like what chicken soup and noodles are to the American (that’s an observation I picked up during my 32 months of stay in the States.)

    If you take a closer look at the many different dialectic groups in China, from the north to the south, the jook made by each is somewhat different from one another. Take my mom’s origin, the Teochew, for instance. (My dad is a Cantonese. I share the same ancestral root as Martin Yan’s, namely, the coastal city in Guangdong called Toisan/Taishan.) Teochew-style jook almost always tastes plain and VERY watery – it’s akin to cooked rice, al dente, served in water(!). To enjoy Teochew jook, you have to serve it with condiments and side dishes such as pickled daikon, Chinese-style omelet, and preserved tofu.

    As opposed to the Teochews’, Cantonese jook is relatively thicker and much flavorful. The Cantonese love cooking the rice with meat and aromatics. Long-grain rice (a.k.a. jasmine rice) is usually used for that. I’ve always preferred Cantonese jook to the Teochews’. Haha! I wrote a post on jook – fish jook – last year for my jook-loving dad. It’d be lovely if you can take look at it:

    http://dodol-mochi.blogspot.com/2010/10/toast-to-greatest-man-in-my-life.html

    In fact, jook is such a common subject among the Chinese and Chinese food bloggers across the world that, I think, it’s been taken granted. =(

    Anyway, just want to say, I really admire the appreciation you’ve shown for different cultures. Food is definitely a way to learn about others. And yes, you can never win arguing with Asian grandmas and MOMS (like mine, haha!). Our thinking is still influenced heavily by Confucius.

    If you do swing by Malaysia, please let me know! Would love to take you around. It’s nice to know of people of different cultures. I’ve definitely learned a lot when I was in the States.

    • Thanks so much for this information, Pei-Lin! How interesting to learn about the regional variations (though I shouldn’t be surprised). I will definitely take a look at your post to learn more. I love how different cultures use similar ingredients to feed and comfort themselves. I hope to always be learning more about that. And if I ever get back to Malaysia (I was there briefly in 1995), I will definitely get in touch! I would love to learn and see more through your eyes. How kind of you to mention it. Thanks again!

  50. Michelle says:

    I am so happy I came across this post, this looks like a lovely dish. I can’t wait to try it.

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