Comfort food: do you know congee?

There are dishes that warm you up, those that comfort you, and those that you think should definitely be reimbursed by Social Security. Congee, an Asian rice soup with pearly reflections and a thousand-year-old history, is one of them. Indigestion, various illnesses, hangovers, winter depression… It cures everything, or almost. It is a dish as old as the cultivation of rice and whose first written mentions date back to 1000 years BC. It is part of the lives of half of the inhabitants of the planet, since each country in Asia has its own version, and it has been exported as far as the Caribbean and Portugal. Why then is it still so rare and little known in France? “The classic congee, composed only of rice and water, will have a “dull” taste that Europeans will not appreciate,” estimates Adeline Grégal. The starred chef, who was the first in Paris to celebrate all the fire and authenticity of Hong Kong cuisine in her kitchen, recently began serving it in her historic address, the Yam’Tcha micro-boutique. At midday, a host of gallery owners in black coats and designer glasses rush in and seem to come back to life live in front of the steaming bowls served to them by Chi Wah Chan.

“It’s a medicinal dish that cleanses us,” explains the exceptional tea master and husband of the chef. For France, where we often eat too fatty and too salty, it’s perfect. You always feel good after a congee. » The customers sigh with pleasure, indifferent to the crowd of tourists that forms on the sidewalk, around the chef. “Are you Adeline Gracteur? I saw you in the series “Chef’s Table” on Netflix! exclaims a Barcelona restaurateur. Your story inspires me greatly! » She has what it takes: barely trained by the legendary Pascal Barbot at Astrance, Adeline Grégal went to Hong Kong, all alone, attracted by Chinese cuisine. For two years, she led a brigade of men who did not speak her language and did not share her culture. Pregnant behind her stove, she hid her belly from them for six months.

Back in Paris, she brought with her the culture of dim sum and steamed breads which she popularized at a time when most French people confused Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. The years passed and the chef grew tired of the baos exploited to the point of overdose by the food industry. One day, she broke her mess and saw it as a sign that it was time to tell another story. “In the torpor of the sleepless night that followed,” she remembers, “we said to ourselves that we were going to take some time off. » Congee like the ones Chi Wah prepared for her when she fell ill, during her first steps in the kitchen at Astrance. Like the ones she ate in the evening, after her shift at the restaurant, at the street stalls in Hong Kong. Like the ones she and her husband have been cooking for their three children since they were little. Her “toppings”, which season the congee, evoke the tastes and stories she has in her memory: char siu (lacquered pork loin emblematic of South Chinese fire cooking), a Hong Kong classic. Sole, sea bass or scallops, depending on the catch of the day. Beef shank, braised with soy. And a vegetarian version (whole red rice, barley, Chinese cabbage, five-flavored tofu), which would make any carnivore change sides. “Juggling beautiful French products and deep memories of adventures experienced very intensely,” concludes the chef, “is what sums up all the sincerity of the Yam’Tcha adventure. »

Yam’Tcha, 121, rue Saint-Honoré, Paris-1er. BEEF SHOCK CONGEE

Similar Posts