Congee / jook was one of my favorite things to eat growing up.
My parents used to make this for breakfast for me and my sister as we got ready for school, and they'd always have a week's worth of congee for us when we got sick.
The porridge with a thousand names
The word "congee" was derived from from the Tamil language of Ancient India, "kanji". In Cantonese, we call it "jūk" (which kinda sounds like "jook"), but there are many, many different variations and names for it across Asia.
Even though congee is commonly known as a rice porridge, it wasn't always the case. With thousands of years of history in China, congee was made with whatever grains were available locally: millet, cornmeal, barley, and etc.
Why we don't eat jook on Chinese New Year
Interestingly, in Chinese tradition, it’s considered a bad omen to eat jook on Chinese New Year.
When I asked my parents about it, my mom explained that in the “old old days, many people didn't enough rice to eat. Using relatively small amounts of rice, they made big pots of congee to make their rice last longer.”
She said that, “the rich ate cooked rice, the poor ate jook.” and that congee is not a high class food.
But, my dad quickly chimed in: “This is not true - if cooked with high-class ingredients, porridge is a high-class meal.”
Congee for all
Historical accounts show that congee was enjoyed across all walks of life, from emperors to everyday people.
It's also an ideal food for babies - my mom started feeding us congee when we turned 1, and it's certainly something that we'll enjoy feeding our newborn son very soon!