Nothing says Chinese comfort food like a hot bowl of congee (粥). You can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’ll cure a hangover, it’ll cleanse your soul; and best of all, it tastes sensational. But if the thought of consuming a bowl of boiled rice makes you worry about carbs, then (a) you don’t appreciate Chinese food as much as you think you do; and (b) you’ll be handed a plate of the deep-fried garbage we give tourists.
Here’s a selection of some of the places you’ve just got to try, and places you should absolutely avoid… or try anyway to have an interesting story to tell.
41 Dixon Street, Sydney
Located in the heart of Chinatown, Super Bowl has been around for decades and is a bit like the McDonald’s of congee. The flavours are right, they’re a bit stingy on the ingredients, the tea is rubbish and the place is genuinely unsanitary; but that won’t matter when you’re craving congee at 1am and you only have a few bucks to your name. Cheap and nasty.
10 Dixon Street, Sydney; Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo
A slightly upmarket Hong Kong-style diner on the north end of Dixon Street, Old Town’s congee is generously-sized, rich and velvety. Their century egg and salted pork congee at Old Town is second-to-none, with sparing bursts of flavour coming through from the pork and spring onions. The fish congee is pretty special, too, with generous fillets that fall apart with little effort in your mouth. Make sure you order a side of youtiao (油條) or spring onion pancakes (蔥油餅) to make it a proper feast.
World Square, Sydney; 3-5 Trelawney St, Eastwood
Owned and operated by the son of the woman behind Mother Chu’s Vegetarian Kitchen, Hungry Paulie has one of the more comprehensive Taiwanese menus in Sydney. They offer a wide selection of congee – century egg and salted pork, fish, pork floss… the components of which are thrown together on-demand like the ingredients of a burger. While that makes for an efficient business, it doesn’t make for very nice congee. The ingredients aren’t meant to be thrown together ad-hoc; it’s meant to be simmered for a long time so that the flavours permeate through the mixture of rice and water. As a result, the congee at Hungry Paulie is watery and flavourless. It doesn’t help that they’re really stingy with their pork floss, or that their youtiao (油條) is deep-fried into little bricks that’ll break your teeth (you need to order a fresh batch separately if you want something remotely edible).
5, Rhodes Shopping Centre, 1 Rider Boulevard, Rhodes (See also: East Phoenix in Zetland and Sky Phoenix in Pitt St, Sydney)
Just been dragged to a marathon session at IKEA? A bowl of congee at Rhodes Phoenix will make the pain go away… at least until you get home and start building. Served during yum cha hours, the congee at Rhodes Phoenix is decent but not spectacular. The trolley ladies are super-stingy with the spring onions, which is odd because they’re pretty cheap to begin with. Don’t be afraid to demand more.
Market City, Haymarket
Considered the gold standard for yum cha in Sydney, The Eight has a trolley lady that offers only one type of congee (and the only one that matters): century egg and salted pork. They only come in single-serve bowls, but the thickness and the flavours are absolutely spot on and, between all the deep-fried sweet-and-sour nonsense for Westerners, it’s absolutely to die for. Just remember: eating congee at yum cha is the sort of thing elderly people do.
KIN by Us
1A/2 Saunders Close, Macquarie Park
This oddball fusion café has just one type of congee on the menu, but it’s a beauty: congee with pork floss and spring onions. You also get youtiao (油條) that’s perfectly hard on the outside and soft on the inside; and a side of shredded ginger and chilli for a little extra punch (well, not that little. It’s actually quite hot). The congee is slightly runnier than what you’d get at Old Town, but it’s still loaded with flavour because they use chicken stock as part of the base. A soft-boiled egg hidden within the congee also provides a rich, creamy surprise, though for my money it’s completely unnecessary.
Hong Kong Diner
Spice Alley, Kensington Street, Chippendale
You’d think the people behind Chef’s Gallery could produce a decent bowl congee, but theirs is amongst the worst. Their century egg and salted pork congee is dull and watery, with flavourless slices of pork and a frankly bizarre combination of shredded lettuce, ginger, spring onions and coriander mixed through the bowl. Weirder still is the youtiao (油條), which are cut up and then deep-fried into impenetrable blocks. Don’t even get me started on the staff – some of them don’t even speak Chinese.
127 Rowe St, Eastwood, also at Dixon St Chinatown.
This Hong Kong-style diner is one of the best in Sydney. It’s clean and spacious; a veritable one-stop shop of old-fashioned Hong Kong delights, from roasted meats to cart noodles (車仔麵) and curried fish balls (咖喱魚蛋). The congee, coming in at $12.50 a bowl, is enough to serve two. The century egg and salted pork congee could give Old Town (which has slipped in quality in recent months) a good run for its money. It’s perfectly silky, filled with flavour, and generous with the ingredients. Plus, it comes with your choice of either youtiao (油條), cheong fun (肠粉), or dumplings (餃子). Completely satisfying.
Macquarie Centre, North Ryde; Westfield Parramatta; and more branches throughout Australia
Pappa Rich offers only one type of congee – chicken congee with steamed chicken. Despite looking very plain, it tastes quite lovely; it’s mild without being bland, with little pops of flavour coming from the shallots and ginger. Traditional sides such as youtiao (油條) aren’t available, but you could always go with some roti. Otherwise, the generous portion of chicken that comes on the side is largely unnecessary.
Jade (no longer in business)
708 George St, Haymarket
This little Malaysian/Chinese fusion diner offers a nice selection of congee, including century egg with pork, chicken, pork liver, and fish. You can also get some youtiao (油條) on the side. It’s very fresh and the silken textures are spot-on, but the flavours border on bland… probably because they’ve been too sparing with the ingredients. That’s not to say it’s bad – it’s textbook perfect for congee that you’d make at home, except you didn’t exactly leave home to eat something you could’ve made yourself, did you? A shame, considering other dishes like the Hainan Chicken Rice (海南雞飯) and cheong fun (肠粉) are genuinely quite good. Jade had the misfortune of opening right in the thick of Sydney’s light rail construction; hopefully they’ll be able to stick around for the long run.
Fusion Café (no longer in business)
78 Burwood Rd, Burwood
One of Sydney’s last bona fide Hong Kong-style establishments, you can kick back and take in some trashy Hong Kong TV while supping on a bowl of congee at the Fusion Café. There are four varieties to choose from, with sides including cheong fun (肠粉), youtiao (油條), and dumplings (餃子). This place won’t win any awards for presentation, but they’re good value where it counts: the servings are large, they’re generous with the ingredients. And the taste? Well, it’s not pretty, but it does the job.
Lok Lok Dumpling Bar
Rhodes Waterside; seven Sydney locations in all
Congee is on the seasonal menu in several varieties, including beef, chicken, fish, and (century) egg and pork. There’s no youtiao (油條), but they do offer a borderline version of spring onion pancakes (蔥油餅). The congee is very generously stocked with ingredients – it’s a hearty feed. That said, it is also on the watery side and surprisingly under-seasoned, which left me with no desire to finish it. I may have simply received a bad batch. I’m not sure what else I expected in a food court.
Tim Ho Wan (no longer in business)
George St, Sydney.
This place might have the best barbecue pork buns in town, but truthfully the same can’t be said of anything else on the menu. In fact, several dishes don’t even taste right. Their Hobbit-sized bowl of century egg and salted pork congee is one of them. Their service might be really fast, but they’re nowhere near the value for money that earned their Hong Kong counterparts a Michelin rating. Weirdly disappointing.
Note: This list was last updated with a few new addresses and restaurants on 25 October 2022.
The ABCs of ABCs is a light-hearted attempt to explain the ins and outs of Australian-Born Chinese culture for Caucasians who can’t make any sense of it. There’s a lot of idiosyncratic behaviour I get asked the same questions about, so I’m doing my best to answer them. Call it my way of bridging the gap between cultures.