Congee Noodle King: Remedy for Cold Weather
Congee Noodle King
3313 Kingsway, Vancouver
To continue my unofficial theme of food for freezing cold Vancouver weather, next up is Congee Noodle King. With over 100 congee and noodle dishes on the menu, this place is sure to have something to warm your tummy on a cold day.
I used to hate congee as a child but I have now come to love seafood congee, especially in the winter. Congee is a rice porridge made by boiling rice in a pot of water until the rice is so soft, it has practically dissolved completely into the water. In Asian countries, congee is eaten for breakfast and lunch. I never liked it as a child because I never thought rice porridge could hold a candle to the tastier, sweet and more interestingly textured oatmeal. But now, I feel like there’s nothing more comforting than a bubbling hot bowl of congee when the weather is icy and you can see your breath in the air outside. Like many other Chinese restaurant cafes, Congee Noodle King opens late – until 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays. Congee and noodles make great midnight snacks.
The great thing about Congee Noodle King are the complimentary barbecue pork slices served before they take your order. And they’re thick slices of pork too, drenched in soy sauce and nice and fatty. It really whets your appetite.
There is also a big bowl of complimentary broth served before the meal.
My all-time favourite congee is seafood congee, known in Chinese as ‘Sampan’ congee. Sampans are Chinese fishing boats and fisherman (who lived on the boats) used to sell congee filled with freshly caught prawns and fish. The updated version of seafood congee includes peanuts, squid and Chinese mushroom.
I love that the peanuts remain crispy in the congee (they’re probably thrown in last minute). The plump and juicy pieces of prawn are incredible, moist, tender and succulent, when you fish them out of the congee. They add a real sweetness to the dish.
Also swimming around the bowl are tender strips of squid, scored and cooked till they’re slightly curled but still tender to the bite. There are also small discs of scallop and some fish.
I also love the soft, floppy Chinese mushroom, juicy because it soaked up so much moisture from the congee.
The actual texture of the congee is nice and thick like a porridge but less lumpy. It’s a very homey, comforting dish. Especially when there’s seafood in it!
A great side order to go with congee is salted Chinese donut, deep fried, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. These donuts can be dunked into the congee and softened. I like to eat them on their own though. Their salty taste is a great contrast to the milder tasting congee. And there’s nothing quite like the crunchy bite of a freshly fried donut to go with a hot bowl of congee.
We also ordered rice noodle wrapped Chinese donuts. I especially like the contrast in texture in this simple dish, the soft, tender rice noodles against the crunchy fried donut inside. This dish comes with a side of oyster sauce and comes on a dish in a pool of soy sauce but again, I like eating them on their own.
The other congee dish we ordered was called Hong Kong Style Sampan Congee on the menu. I imagined it to be a souped-up version of the seafood congee on the menu. It wasn’t. I dug for a very long time before finding a piece of seafood. I think it was fish. There were other unidentified squishy long beige strips of what I could only guess was jellyfish or some sort of squid. It was actually tasty though. And the congee was flavourful, a little more salty than the seafood congee. There was also a lot of minced beef filling up the bowl. I suppose this makes up for the utter lack of seafood.
We ordered one of my favourite dishes, prawn with scrambled egg on top of rice noodles. It sounds like a simple dish but it’s so delicious. The runny egg creates this wonderful creamy sauce tying together the tender prawns and the soft, flat rice noodles. The generous sprinkling of chives also adds an extra crunch to the dish.
There is also a beef version of the dish, which we also ordered. The beef in this dish makes it more filling than the prawn version. The sauce is equally rich and creamy in this dish. The rice noodles are the perfect texture and size to soak up a lot of the sauce, making each mouthful incredible.
We also ordered the prawn and beef versions of the fried noodles. I am very particular about fried noodles. I only like the ones that are round and fried to a crackling crispiness. I cannot stand egg noodles with a slightly flat shape.
I love that the fried noodles at Congee Noodle King are fried to a certain texture so they don’t get too soggy when mixed with the sauce. Some of the noodles in the middle of the bowl absorb the sweet and salty sauce but the other bits of noodles remain crisp to the bite. I love this.
Both prawn and beef version of this dish came with big fat pieces of bok choy. I am pretty opposed to leafy green vegetables in general but bok choy is the best of all worlds with minimal leafy bits and a nice crunchy stalk that I love. It was wonderful in the fried noodle dishes.
We also ordered a beef tendon and fried noodle dish. The noodles in this dish were only lightly pan fried but were still delicious. The beef tendon was flavourful and tender.
For a vegetable dish we ordered fried snap peas with prawns and scallops. I haven’t figured out what sort of sauce is drizzled on top, I think it’s chicken stock based, but it’s scrumptious, giving the seafood and snap peas an appetizing glaze.
The snap peas were cooked perfectly, crispy and sweet. The prawns and scallops were incredibly tender.
Our next dish was another share plate, called ‘Steak Cantonese Style’ on the menu. Covered in a sweet and salty tomato based sauce, these small pieces of steak were very tasty. Tender and moist, cooked to a perfect medium. I loved that there was a nice char to them on the outside but the meat was tender enough to still absorb the sauce.
One of my all-time favourite dishes is sweet and sour pork. And Congee Noodle King really does it right, each piece of pork is fried to crispiness on the outside but remains moist and tender on the inside. The sweet and sour sauce had the perfect degree of sweetness and tang. The huge chunks of sweet pineapple also helped tie the dish together.
The other complimentary items of the evening included the dessert. Since this post includes meals from two visits, I have also tried two of Congee Noodle King’s desserts. The first one, I loved since it was one of my favourites: a sweet soup filled with sweet taro and lots of tapioca pearls. The custard based soup was creamy and rich, the tapioca beads were squishy and bouncy. The little cubes of sweet taro were cooked to the point of ultimate tenderness. They just melted in my mouth.
The second dessert is a very popular Chinese dessert, a red bean sweet soup filled with red bean, sago and lotus seeds. This dessert is much heavier than the taro and tapioca dessert. The thing I dislike most about the red bean soup is the grittiness it leaves on my tongue. Red beans take on a real sandy and gritty texture when cooked in a sweet soup like this. The flavour of the soup is pretty interesting, there’s notes of very syrupy sweetness and a deep nuttiness but I’ve always found odd waves of savouriness in this soup. And savoury flavours have no place in a dessert!
I can’t wait for my next Congee Noodle King visit. I hope the taro and tapioca dessert is on the stove top!