A congee cook-off sounds more appetizing than a gruel duel. Whatever you call it, rice porridge is what’s for breakfast in much of the world. Learn to eat cheaply with a congee party.
Congee Cook-Off Themes: Who can think of gruel without picturing Oliver Twist asking for more? Congee may make everyone want to eat up. It’s cheap, versatile and usually healthy. The dish is traditional in much of Asia, but most Americans probably know the Chinese version best. You just need a rice cooker or pot. Boil the rice in lots of water overnight or longer until it breaks down into porridge. Any seasonings and ingredients can be added from simple tofu and vegetables to scallops to century eggs. Many cooks add whatever they’ve got leftover so your guests can improvise with anything they like. Instead of sticking to Asian ingredients, people can make up whole new variations if they want.
Side Dishes and Drinks: You’ll need plenty of bread and water to go with all that gruel. Fried breadsticks actually go very well with congee, but you can ask people to bring any bread of their choice. If you’re feeling more permissive, you can put a wider selection of additional dishes behind the bread and water. Most stuff goes in the congee itself so you probably don’t need much more than a green salad, desserts, and alcohol if people want it.
Congee Party Décor: Stick to a low budget by making the décor a hybrid of Chinatown and Oliver Twist ideas. Get cheap accessories from Chinatown shops like fans, lanterns, wall scrolls, kites, and other knickknacks. Play the soundtrack from Carol Reeds’ musical Oliver! (1968). If it didn’t get stuck in your head during piano lessons as a child, it will now. You can also play Chinese operas or Chinese radio stations. People can dress in old clothes like Fagin and his boys or wear Asian silk jackets.
Congee Cook-Off Judging: For the congee judging, give out prizes in several categories including the most delicious, the healthiest and the most innovative. For prizes, get the most fabulously tacky tourist souvenirs you can find in Chinatown like porcelain pigs, Bruce Lee action figures, or those plastic cats with moving legs. Or get a few cheap iron bowls and put stickers on them with the name of the winners.
Planning a congee cook-off party doesn’t have to be grueling. Have fun and eat your porridge.