Battle of the Dishes: Congee

Left: Congee at East Corner Wonton; Right: Big Wing Wong's version

This week's Battle of the Dishes pits two renditions of Cantonese-style congee against each other. Also known as jook, congee is often eaten for breakfast, sometimes along with a you tiao, or Chinese cruller. The plain porridge is often augmented with bits of fish or meat, preserved eggs, or offal, and garnished with peanuts and scallions. Cantonese-style congee is made by boiling white rice with lots of water until it breaks down into a milky, quivering stew. A good version should be restorative, comforting, and thick, but not gloppy. A mild, ricey flavor is nice, and a bit of ginger is even nicer.

The idea was to find classic, down-home Cantonese spots that open early to serve congee for breakfast. So that put higher-end places like Congee Village out of the running. Both Big Wing Wong and East Corner Wonton were busy at 9 a.m., full of people slurping congee or stopping in for a cruller.

In this corner: East Corner Wonton The bowl of combination congee--bits of squid, beef, and ground pork suspended within the milky depths--had a pleasantly salty, clean rice flavor, with occasional jolts of ginger. Plus, it was only $3.25 for a voluminous bowl. The texture was soothingly thick, but not too much so--a tipped spoonful would slide off the spoon easily, leaving just a slick of congee behind. Pale lengths of julienned squid had a good chew, and the bits of beef and pork were scanty, which felt right.

In this corner: Big Wing Wong Restaurant The congee here was a bit thicker than East Corner's and more expensive--$3.75 for a heaping serving. The same combination--squid, beef, and ground pork--netted a bowl with much more meat than at East Corner. The squid was great, but the ground pork and beef both tasted vaguely off. Still, a perfectly fine bowl of congee.

And the winner is East Corner Wonton, on the strength of its low price, clean taste, and appealing texture. Anyone have any other favorites for a down-home congee breakfast?

East Corner Wonton 70 East Broadway 212-343-9896

Big Wing Wong Restaurant 102 Mott Street 212-274-0696

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