Any congee aficionado worth his salt would not be unfamiliar with Mui Kee Congee, a Hong Kong institution which started out as a dai pai tong (street stall) in 1979 before moving to its current location in Mongkok Garden Street. Now run by third-generation owner Choi Gok Tung, the stall has remained unchanged over the years, utilitarian in its décor and without air-conditioning. But what continues to draw the crowd, even in the middle of a sweltering summer, is a heartwarming bowl of congee.
The Technique Of Sheng Gun
Congee is a hallmark of Cantonese cooking and this style of porridge involves a process called sheng gun, where raw ingredients are cooked in continually boiling rice porridge until their flavours are infused into the entire dish. At Mui Kee, the signature is fish belly congee, made with dace fish sourced from Shunde region where the founder was originally from. Each bowl is cooked to order, the fish sautéed with rice wine, then cooked in a traditional copper pot and served when it comes to a rolling boil, the technique imparting to the dish an unmistakable wok hei (wok’s breath). Other than fish, Mui Kee also serves up congee cooked with meatballs, beef, pork and innards.
The day starts at half past six in the morning for third-gen owner Choi who visits the fishmonger at the market right below Mui Kee to procure the day’s best catch. It’s a partnership that has outlasted the decades and the owner of the fish stall always sets aside the freshest fish for Choi, each weighing about six pounds as only dace of this size yields cleaner, fresher-tasting meat.
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Preparing and filleting the fish is an integral step and this job falls into the masterful hands of Choi’s father, who ensures his knife is always sharpened before cutting into the fish. His knife work is skillful and precise, slicing through flesh and bone to achieve clean, neat slices of fish that cook evenly.
Burning The Midnight Oil
Although the congee usually sells out by 3pm and Mui Kee closes for the day, Choi returns to the porridge shop at 11pm every night to begin preparations for the next day. This starts with mixing the raw rice with century eggs and oil. The rice marinates for about an hour while he boils the broth with ginger, fish bones and dried tangerine peel. The stock is boiled for three hours till it turns a rich milky white and the rice is added into it and cooked for another four hours till it achieves a silky smooth consistency. The final touch is a splash of water from soaked beancurd sheets that adds flavour and heft to the congee.