Mike's Noodle House
418 Maynard Ave S, 389-7099

Mon-Fri 9:30 am-8 pm; Sat-Sun 9:30 am-9 pm.

I don't know where I've been, lo all these years of eating Chinese food, but somehow I never managed to eat a bowl of congee.

Congee is like porridge (or gruel, if you're given to Dickensian notions), made of rice cooked with lots of water until it pretty much falls apart. In China and Vietnam, congee is breakfast and a digestive aid, and whether or not you eat it for breakfast it's wonderfully soothing food, very midwinter, very cheap and satisfying.

My own happy discovery was made with Ms. Sara Dickerman, who had an upset stomach due to foreign travel and had ordered some pork congee with what we were pretty sure were century eggs. The congee was nice and salty, with tender bits of pork, thick enough to support a spoon. The century eggs, which are actually eggs preserved in a salt solution, tasted like gelatinous mushrooms. My spoon kept retuning to Sara's congee, until I finally just took the bowl away from her. She was pretty gracious about it.

At a recent lunch at Mike's Noodle House I had sublime rock cod congee ($3.95) with mild, impossibly tender cod and a few shreds of ginger, so that the congee gradually got more pungent as the ginger stewed in the hot rice; my dining companion had sampan congee ($3.50), a slightly thinner porridge with different kinds of mystery seafood and topped with lettuce and peanuts. Not every piece of seafood was delicious, but the peanuts gave a balanced richness to the occasional fishiness. We dipped Chinese doughnuts (like savory crullers, $1.60 each) into the congee, and had some nicely stringent bok choy with oyster sauce ($3.45) on the side.

Some people prefer the congee at Purple Dot Cafe (515 Maynard Ave S, 622-0288) or the impossibly cheap Canton Wonton (608 S Weller St, 682-5080); as for me, it's an embarrassment of riches. I'll try them all.