In Vietnam, like many other Asian countries such as China, Singapore and Japan, the local diet reverts to porridge in times of sickness, believing a steaming hot bowl of porridge is a cure-all like hot tea or a Western grandmother’s chicken noodle soup. Porridge has thousands of years of history in China, and is one of its staple foods. According to the history books, Emperor Huang Di was the first to cook porridge, way back in 2,500 BCE, using millet (a small seeded grain) as the main ingredient. This is considered to be the earliest record of porridge.
Porridge, or congee, is as varied as the numerous regions and countries in which it is made. Despite its many variations, in Asia it is usually a thick mixture of rice, the grains largely disintegrated after prolonged cooking. Known by many names in many other parts of the world, such as congee in China, okayu in Japan, juk in Korea, canja in Portugal, and oatmeal in the US and Canada, in Vietnam it is known as chao.
Chao in Vietnam is often eaten for breakfast or late supper. Here are some chao for thought.
1. Chao Muc
As the name suggest, this porridge is made with dried squid. The salty dried squid enhances the flavour and becomes tender after cooking for hours in the pot. If you’ve ever tried the chewy dried squid sold on the streets, you’ll understand what this dish is like. The bowl of porridge comes with congealed blood, bean sprouts, and green onions. Make sure you add a century egg (Chinese-influenced preserved egg) to your bowl, along with some fresh chopped chilli and a squeeze of lime. The dish is served with a gio chao quay (a breadstick also known as youtiao, a type of Chinese doughnut or cruller) cut up into bite-size pieces.
10 Chao Muc
10 Pho Duc Chinh Street // District 1 // 0838294414 // 6.30am – 9pm
2. Chao Long
…or pork organ porridge, is a favourite for the local crowd, often sold by street hawkers. Normally served with bean sprouts, congealed blood, chilli paste, fish sauce, black pepper, green onions, side of gio chao quay, and coriander. It is literally an explosion of flavour in your mouth.
170 Vo Thi Sau // District 3 // 11.30am – 10pm
3. Chao Ga
…or chicken porridge, is another staple, especially for family dining because it is often served with a mountain of shredded chicken salad (goi ga), making it perfect for groups. The difference with this porridge is that instead of water, it is cooked in chicken stock and ginger.
The chicken salad is made with shredded cabbage, cucumber, onion, garlic, chopped persicaria (rau ram) and marinated fish sauce, all tossed together with shredded chicken and topped with roasted peanuts.
Quan Chao Ga Ta Van Huong
135 Tran Phu Street // District 5 // 0909184678 // 3pm – 11pm.