Congee at Hing Lung

by foodhoe on February 3, 2009

674 Broadway, San Francisco, CA | 415.398.8838 | open daily 8 am – 1 am.

I did not grow up eating rice porridge, although my father would occasionally reminisce about his mother serving him okayu when he was feeling under the weather as a child.  The closest thing we had was ochazuke, which is just green tea poured over rice and topped with pickled vegetables (fukujinzuke).  Rice porridge is like chicken soup for Asians because it is easy to digest and so soothing.  Last week I became positively obsessed with the Chinese version called congee that is served at Hing Lung Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  The word congee (also known as jook in Canton) comes from the Indian “kanji”, which refers to the water in which the rice has been boiled.  Below  is the front kitchen where they keep large vats of the steaming thick porridge ready to serve, as they are famous throughout the land for their jook, which is served all day long.  You get the best deal if you come between 8 – 11 am because you can get a bowl of jook for $2.50.

Every day last week, we ate Chinese food at lunch perhaps to celebrate Chinese New Years, and for the most part at Hing Lung.  The dining room gets pretty full with what appear to be locals, but the servers recognized us with broad smiles when we returned for our second visit.

Previously, I had thought rice porridge to be bland and about as interesting as plain oatmeal, but that was until I had the congee at Hing Lung.  The consistency is thick and creamy and while it looks pale and like it will taste bland, it is very richly flavored and savory.  The meat is slow cooked until it is tender and nestles down unseen at the bottom of the bowl.

It is the ultimate comfort food and the favorite of many as the Foodgal just posted the Joys of Jook, and Passionate Eater has recently written about varieties of toppings that she loves such as pork floss and the thousand year old egg, even a haiku about congee, but then she is a passionate one.  She presents a compelling argument of the beauty of preserved eggs, even convincing me.  I now can see magnificence in this.

On my first visit, I ordered the Frog’s Leg with Mushroom Congee.  The porridge was mild and savory with a pronounced flavor of ginger and while the meat did remind me of chicken, it was tough and hard to eat.  I dined with Alexson and Jay who both had the Pork with Preserved Egg and we came back the next three days and I ordered that dish each time.

We also had fried bread sticks known as youtiao, which have an interesting history derived from ancient legend.  During the time of Confucius, a government official falsely accused Yueh Fei, a famous scholar and poet, of treason.  Yueh Fei was subsequently put to death. The Chinese name for the dish, Yu Za Kuei translates literally into deep-fried devils.  Frying the crullers in oil symbolizes the government official and everyone who participated in the scheme being deep-fried in oil for eternity.  One time we got them fresh out of the fryer, which is my absolute favorite state of anything fried… and we symbolically continue the tradition of frying the government officials!  Then you dip it into  the congee, the same way you would dip a doughnut into a cup of coffee, except that you use chopsticks…

Cows Tongue Pastry ngao lei so is another fried bread that is served.  It has a crumbly, buttermilk donut-like consistency, and is slightly sweet.

Here is the fry master busily frying bread.  They have a walk up window in the front of the restaurant that sells barbecued ducks, but most of the action seems to be going on in the restaurant.  I wonder if you can request freshly fried bread…

According to Foodgal, congee is supposed to be very easy to make.  But the big question is, will it taste as good as Hing Lungs?   And what about the fried devils?!!!  Sigh… I suppose it’s not about the fried stuff, it’s the congee that’s good for the soul…  Anyways, I have a Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker that has a setting to make rice porridge and I’ll let you know…

Hing Lung Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

connocat February 3, 2009 at 1:31 pm

beware..my friend got jacked multiple times with the bill here…

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Gastronomer February 3, 2009 at 2:13 pm

I think that the fried dough is essential for an excellent porridge experience. I’d be hungry after thirty minutes if it weren’t for the dough. It just soaks up the broth so very nicely! And here here for thousand year old eggs 🙂

Gastronomers last blog post..Veranda on Highland – Birmingham

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Kirk February 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Hi FH – This is one of my major landwarks in Chinatown….I think I’ve eaten there on every single one of my trips. But my In-Laws said the jook gives them the MS-heebie-Geebies…

Kirks last blog post..Road Trip: Hwang Hae Do Korean BBQ – Garden Grove (OC)

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foodhoe February 3, 2009 at 5:05 pm

connocat, I agree that the mechanics of the restaurant leave much to be desired…
gastronomer, aha! that must be why it seems so intrinsic to the dish.
kirk, hmmm that must be why it tastes so good. it’s a good thing msg runs in my veins!

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James February 3, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Deep Fried Devils! Thanks for that lovely story behind the ever innocent looking frybread.

Jamess last blog post..Poetic Breakfast (and Lunch)

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Passionate Eater February 3, 2009 at 10:14 pm

You are adorable Foodhoe! I just wrote Chef Ben and asked if I could tag along to another one of your food outings, and he said YES!

I am so glad that you have been convinced of the merits of the 1000 year old egg–I needed to be convinced too, I didn’t particularly like them as a kid. Also, it is SO easy to make congee at home! You do have to add MSG though, and lots and lots of water. You could just add chicken bones, ginger, and salt, and boil away. I add scallions and sesame oil on the top when everything is finished cooking.

Passionate Eaters last blog post..Recreating Europe #3: Pleasingly Palatable Paella

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Passionate Eater February 3, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Oh yes, and “yikes!” That deep fried devil story does give me a bit of pause now, as I look at those fried breads!

Passionate Eaters last blog post..Recreating Europe #3: Pleasingly Palatable Paella

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Carolyn Jung February 3, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Wow, frog legs congee? I’ve never seen that on a menu. I do admit to a fondness for fish congee. Cooking thin slivers of fish by pouring hot porridge over them just leaves the fish with such a silky texture. And Foodhoe, trust me, congee is very easy to make. I eagerly await your post about making in a rice cooker. 😉

Carolyn Jungs last blog post..Celebrate Suds — Big-Time

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Rosa February 4, 2009 at 12:44 am

I love Chinese food… this deep fried speciality intrigues me!

Cheers,

Rosa

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foodhoe February 4, 2009 at 8:35 am

james, it’s a whole different way to think about eating donuts
PE I’m looking forward to hanging out with you guys! Your photos of those preserved eggs are really so stunning…
Carolyn, your description of the fish congee sounds fantastic! I have to find the instruction manual, but it might be as easy as pushing a button.
Rosa, me too, I can eat it every day just about!

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Lo! February 4, 2009 at 10:03 am

Cow’s tongue pastry, huh? Fascinating stuff.

Lo!s last blog post..Tomato Love: Final Day to Enter Tomato Giveaway

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Single Guy Chef February 4, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Jook (that’s what I call it) is true comfort food. There are so many varieties, but I go with the most popular and most ordered at restaurants, which is the pork and thousand year old eggs. Jook is also great for settling a stomach if you’re getting over a cold or flu because the rice is bland and your body needs the blandness, and the slivers of ginger aides in your digestion. Just more reasons to eat jook! (BTW, I think there’s a debate of whether MSG makes a difference. I personally make it at home without it and I still love it. And it is easy to make, but you have to watch your pot to make sure you don’t burn your jook on the bottom because the starch can clump up and burn if you don’t stir occasionally.)

Single Guy Chefs last blog post..Local … Artisan … Chinese Sausages

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foodhoe February 4, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Lo! thanks for visiting
Single Guy, that’s my favorite so far. It’s interesting how many different ways people prepare it. I’m hoping my rice cooker will do all the work for me!

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sporter September 6, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Slight contradiction in the information provided. Review states “restaurant in China Town”. Address information at end of article reads “in North Beach” and gives address. North Beach and China Town are .9 miles apart and the address given is maybe on the northern boarder of China Town. I’m just sayin’.

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foodhoe September 6, 2009 at 5:47 pm

sporter, are you not sporty enough to walk .9 miles? a good way to walk off the fried bread…

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Pittsburgh Rick March 9, 2010 at 9:23 am

FOODHOE
I’m a TV producer at the public TV station WQED in Pittsburgh, PA. I’m working now on a documentary for PBS national that will be titled BREAKFAST SPECIAL. We’re going across America visiting places where you can have some interesting breakfasts. I was hoping to find someone who might talk to us about congee, and I think you would be ideal. (I found your blog while researching congee in the Bay Area, and I think I learned more on your site than anywhere else.) We’re coming to San Francisco next week. Would you consider a TV interview and maybe take us to Hing Lung? My email is rsebak@wqed.org and you can read about the project at http://www.wqed.org/breakfast. Or call me on my cell at 412 953-0593. I would like very much to hear from you and see if we can work something out.
RICK SEBAK

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FoodJoe July 15, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I saw the PBS special here in NYC yesterday. Very intrigued, and working Hing Lung into a San Francisco visit in August. Good stuff, FoodHoe and Pittsburgh Rick.

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foodhoe July 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm

FoodJoe, you should, it’s an SF institution. don’t forget to order fried bread to go with the jook!

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FrothyDelite July 15, 2010 at 10:56 pm

I was quite interested in jook after seeing the PBS special. And..you were quite fetching; your observations perfectly phrased (with a voice of a TV professional to boot) I just had to read your blog. Excellent! I am now inspired to head over to Hing Lung with 6 English guests arriving this Saturday for a weeks stay with us in SF. They will have experienced nothing like it before, I imagine! Thanks for the thumbs up…

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foodhoe July 17, 2010 at 10:36 pm

frothy delite, (LOL thank you for your kind words, although I feel this message is probably written by someone I know as a joke…) I hope you enjoy the jook, it is the best ever. Make sure you get fried bread, and the hong kong style milk tea. It is the breakfast of champions.

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Agnes July 18, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I agree that the food is very good at Hing Lung, one of the best bowls of Jook in town. However, the service there is terrible. They lied about credit card limits, of course pushing to take cash and they were rude about it. Service can be hit or miss at times as well. Worth it for the food, but the service/experience can leave a very bad after taste here.

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Pittsburgh SEO December 13, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Looks delicious. I think I need to get to ChinaTown soon.

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JeffT July 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Alas, Hing Lung is no longer. Shut down earlier this year for health violations.

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foodhoe July 26, 2012 at 8:58 am

Sad news indeed! Unfortunately, I can believe that it was health code violations that did them in as I dined there many many times and just turned my head the other way because the jook was just so dang good…

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Richard Latimer April 7, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Sandy’I never read Blogs except for yours,keep up all your great work/reporting on food, thanks,
Jon in Ontario Canada

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