100 Allen St
New York, NY 10002
If you are an American Born Chinese and grew up eating in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, Congee Village will make you nostalgic for your childhood. Congee Village is the quintessential Chinatown restaurant. It is Cantonese (early Chinese immigrants were mostly Cantonese so most Chinatowns now are dominated by a Cantonese population), uses huge gold wallpaper adorned with dragons and phoenixes, has plenty of large, round table seating, and has an all male wait staff that wears black slacks, white shirts, and little black vests. If you’re hungover, Congee Village will provide the hearty dishes and watered down tea to make things right again. I happened to be both an ABC and hungover on a Sunday afternoon (well, I’m always an ABC) and so Congee Village was doubly perfect for me.
I seriously woke up, with a headache, craving Salted Fish and Diced Chicken Fried Rice ($9.50). If you’ve never had it, you’d think I was weird. But if you have, you’d completely understand. I needed the oily goodness of second-day jasmine rice fried up with
chicken, peas, scallions, and most of all, salted fish. Good fried rice is always made with second-day rice because the extra day in the fridge* lets the rice dry out. Fried rice always involves some sort of liquid (oil, some kind of sauce, or cooking wine) and if you start out with a plump batch of rice, the additional liquid will just make your rice mushy. If you can’t fry each individual grain of rice, you know you have a problem. The chicken is actually kind of useless in my opinion and I’d be completely okay leaving it out… but it is part of the traditional style of this canto dish so Congee Village leaves it in. Chicken is very difficult to make well… a couple seconds too long on the stove and you have a dry stringy wok of diced chicken. I do love the peas but according to T.W., they are not actually part of the traditional dish. Americans eat a lot of peas, so one day, someone just decided to add them to every fried rice possible. It adds color and I think it tastes great. It gives a bit of sweetness to counter the salty fish… my favorite part of the dish. Yes, salted fish smells kind of like … feet … but it tastes like salt on crack. There isn’t a whole lot of it in the rice, which makes it all that much more special. Tiny pieces of the fish are sprinkled throughout just to give you enough to make you yearn for more. Serious umami factor here.
I’m so proud of T.W. because she is now a true woman – she eats eggplants. She likes eggplants! My mother always said eggplant is good for your skin and who needs good skin more than a real woman**? We ordered the Eggplant Vegetable with Bean Curd ($9.95), which consisted of a sizzling stone pot filled with fat, juicy slices of eggplant, bamboo fungus (different from bamboo shoots), tofu, all over a base of lettuce. Bamboo fungus is such an unfortunate English translation for something delicious. In Chinese, it is called 竹笙, which literally translates to bamboo instrument or music. It doesn’t have much of a taste but is a fun texture of soft and crunchy, kind of like jelly fish. It’s yummy, I swear! Normally, I don’t like brown sauce dishes because I think it contains too much corn starch and all tastes the same. This is all probably true and is a trademark of canto dishes but sometimes I crave the simplicity of the ambiguous brown sauce. The eggplant dish proved to be quite good as it was filled with lots of great textures from the soft eggplant to the crunchy bamboo fungus and to the… tofu-y tofu.
We also got half a Five Spices duck ($8.95). This was different from the usual roasted duck dish because it had a marinade that was poured over it. Normally the roasted duck is just dry crispy goodness. Nonetheless, this duck was finger-licking good with its five spices… despite the fact that the star anise was a bit too overpowering. It was moist, juicy, tender, and gave our meal a good dose of protein.
V.P. joined us after we had already eaten most of the fried rice, all of the eggplant, and half of the duck. I made sure she ate all the rest before we left – can’t waste! We normally also order the Pork Chop Peking Style (京都排骨), which is a delicious sweet and salty fried pork chop dish, and the Pea Shoots with Garlic (蒜蓉豆苗), simply a classic veggie dish. Of course, we sometimes get congee (porridge) as well. I tend to like the Pork and Thousand Year Old Egg congee… more on that next time. Congee Village isn’t anything spectacular but serves up all the right classic dishes. It’s a fun place to come to with a large party because they have such large tables and like all Chinese places, it encourages lots of noise. If you come on your birthday (or pretend it’s your birthday), they’ll even put on the cheesy Happy Birthday song sung in a Chinese accent for the whole restaurant (all 2 floors) to hear.
*Germs love moist environments. Rice is moist. Germs are powerful. Even frying it up the next day won’t kill them (I read about this). Make sure the rice has cooled down and then stick it in the fridge immediately!
**A.W., don’t worry. There are other ways that can make you a true woman. Eggplants being just one of them.