When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Chiu Chow Rice Soup: Chao Zhou Restaurant, Flushing, Queens

I ate many a rice gruel for breakfast growing up. The Chinese call it “xi▪fan” (稀飯), which literally translates into “sloppy rice.” That’s because that’s exactly how it is made. Mother would just boil the leftover rice with some water until the rice grains began breaking down, and the entire slop thickened up. We ate xifan with a variety of preserved meats and vegetables ,including salted fish, fried pork “song” (肉鬆), and pickled mustard tubers. It was not a sumptuous breakfast by any means, but it was a traditional breakfast indeed.

Rarely, however, had I had the chance to eat Chiu Chow-style sloppy rice. A specialty of this eastern Guangdong city (today: Chaozhou; 潮州), the local style of sloppy rice is made by cooking the rice in a savory broth just so briefly, so that the rice grains do not break down, and the broth remains clear and thin. Some people call it “pao▪fan” (泡飯), which literally translates as “soaked rice.”

On the menu at Flushing’s Chao Zhou Restaurant, it is called “rice soup.” Today I ordered the “Rice Soup with Salted Fish and Minced Pork” ($6). It arrived looking like a steamy bowl of chicken broth, but stirring the bottom with my spoon, the rice surfaced to the top like gold dust. The salted fish—pomfret I suppose—had a strong and pungent smell, but that’s what salted fish is supposed to smell like. Combined with minced lean pork, which is mild in flavor, it is a perfect match of opposite flavors.

Is this a rice or soup dish? That’s a debate for the ages. Compared to the xifan that I grew up with, Chiu Chow rice soup is so thin that it eats like a soup. But unlike the Cantonese congee, in which the rice is boiled until the grains nearly dissolve completely, each grain of rice is firm and distinct, just like eating rice. However you categorize it, this slop is packed with sumptuous flavors such that I could look forward to eating it every morning.

Chao Zhou Restaurant is located at 40-52 Main Street, Flushing, Queens.

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