Friday, February 10, 2012

No Joke - It's Called Johk

Ground pork is spooned from a dish into a hot pot of johk

If you're out walking in the morning - especially in a commute area - you're likely to see a knot of people queued up to buy johk. Chinese would call it congee and some Westerners might call it rice porridge, but johk is a delicious dish, even if it comes in a bag.

Pronounced most closely to the English word "joke" it's basically just boiled (or in some cases twice-cooked) rice, reduced to a soft soup. Johk that's cooked from raw rice tends to have a little firmer consistency - or "tooth", if I may liken it to al dente pasta - than johk made from already cooked rice, but both are good, I think. Both involve boiling the rice to a very soft consistency.

I first had it served to me about 30 years ago by a Taiwanese friend studying here in the US as part of his medical training.  I was visiting him for dinner at his home, and he began the meal with a bowl of chicken-based congee.  I was in love.  No, not with him, that didn't pan out... I meant with the porridge. We've stayed friends, though, and time spent with him in Taipei will probably pop up here at some point.

Ladling johk into a to-go bag
Johk starts out as a very thick glorp that is thinned down with chicken, pork or another flavored broth to be served. Some carts have it already thinned and very hot so the additional ingredients can settle in and/or cook a bit in it while it's in the dish, similar to Vietnamese pho, which I'm misspelling because I don't have an available font with the correct "o", sorry.

Additions to the bowl are most commonly ground pork or little pork meatballs, but they could also easily be duck eggs or chicken eggs (already soft-boiled, not raw or fully cooked), scallions/green onions, grated or chopped ginger and other add-ons that vary from place to place.  Regardless of what's added to it a steaming bowl brings a heavenly scent up to the nose and a smile to the face.

You can add most anything else to it to your personal taste: fish sauce, shoyu (soy sauce), sugar, chilies (dried/flaked or in vinegar) and the likes. Let it steep a couple of minutes to allow the flavors to blend and then have at it.

At the beginning today I made a reference to dishes and bags, so let me clear that up. The stand I used photos of was primarily a to-go or take-away cart, and you can see the guy in the striped shirt holding what looks like an aluminum dish in his left hand.  What it actually is is a funnel with a spout about 2.5 to 3" wide.  He places the funnel into a plastic bag, ladles the johk into the bag, then seals the bag with a rubber band.  The customer then carries the bag off with them to the office or wherever they're headed. You get a better look at the ladling action in the second photo.

I've read that it's a fine preventative for - or help with - a hangover, which is partly why you're likely to see it being sold in the wee small hours of the morning as people stagger towards home.  No joke.

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