Congee by Jiang Yifu
A Chinese breakfast staple reimagined as a late night libation.
Xixi Bistro is a conceptual Chinese restaurant from 1920s Shanghai, and Happy Endings is the name of our bar inside. We want to show how Shanghai has long been an international, cosmopolitan city, a place where East meets West. Recently, it’s been fashionable to use Asian ingredients in classic cocktails. I see this happening a lot in the US. I try to do this here too, but it’s important to balance the drink. Classic cocktails have been on this planet for 200 years. You need to respect the history and the culture. You also need to understand its ingredients and know why they were used in the drink. At the same time, you need to show people that you’re up-to-date with the latest trends, and mix these two elements together for a good balance. This this why even though we’re a Chinese restaurant, our food and drinks are not entirely local. If we made it too traditional, I’m afraid it would not appeal to most of our guests. Our goal is to make good drinks that people enjoy.
One of the cocktails I came up with is the Congee. Congee is a traditional Chinese food that people eat in the morning. It’s usually made of rice cooked in a lot of water. If you don’t add salt, the water is thick and starchy, a little sweet. So I had an idea of turning this into a drink. I started off by adding sake because it’s made from fermented rice, but sake is too low in alcohol, so I combined it with vodka because it’s tasteless and adds a bit more strength to the drink. I then used orgeat syrup for some sweetness, then topped the drink off with a dash of fermented red bean sauce. The sauce is normally used to make hongshaorou and drunken shrimp, which was where I got my idea from when I was eating drunken shrimp one day. I thought, “How can I use this in a cocktail?” and my wife said, “Are you crazy?” I serve it with a side of pickles, because when local people eat congee in the morning, they always have it with some pickles. The sourness of the pickles balances the sweetness of the drink. These ingredients have been in my mind for over a year, and now I finally put them together. Surprisingly, it works.
40ml Rice water
20ml Orgeat syrup
1ds Fermented red bean paste
Stir all the ingredients (except the red paste) over ice. Serve in a rice bowl with a dash of the red bean sauce. Garnish with pickled cucumber.
Jiang Yifu was the bartender at Happy Endings in Xixi Bistro. Xixi Bistro closed their Wuyuan Lu location, and may be opening in a new address soon.
This article first appeared in issue 44 of Drink Magazine.