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I Dream of Bryant Ng’s Rice Porridge
I don’t normally share my dreams for fear of armchair Freudian shrinks potentially mangling my unconscious, nocturnal frolics and misinterpreting them into something sinister or kinky. But this particular dream is quite straightforward. I have a reverie where each morning I stroll up to a simple sidewalk stall and star chef Bryant Ng of The Spice Table, in one nimble stroke, scoops me a bowl of dreamy, steamy jook—also known as congee, rice porridge, or whatever you like to call it. (Although there is no dream interpretation for jook specifically, the analysis for soup apparently tells of the dreamer’s emotional hunger or nourishment. Hmmm.)
This fantasy congee steeps in chicken stock, dried scallops, ginger, white pepper, nước mắm (fish sauce), soy sauce, and bacon until the rice virtually disintegrates into the broth. After flavoring the congee with a smoky sensation, the tender bacon is minced and goes right back into this gorgeous gruel. Laksa leaf (aka Vietnamese coriander) and fried shallots freckle the top. To finish, the diner places a lusciously moist disc of raw day boat scallop into the warm brew. Chef Ng does this all day and I eat it all day. Then I wake up.
Back to reality. So, no, chef Ng won’t be planted near a street corner dishing out bowls of congee old-country, old-school style to hungry passers-by. But, fortunately, this awakening isn’t as rude as it could be because this raw scallop congee is available on The Spice Table’s menu rotation, as is Ng's grilled duck congee.
I lapped up the raw scallop rendition of chef Ng’s congee at Mo-Chica’s limited run Ceviche Nights—presented by Paiche (Ricardo Zarate’s upcoming Marina del Rey cevichería) and Josh Lurie of Food GPS—where Chef Ng along with Kris Yenbamroong (Night + Market) and Hourie Sahakian (Short Cake) spun their own interpretation on ceviche.
Few dishes could look simpler yet embrace so much flavor: fresh chicken stock, smokiness from the bacon, deep umami disseminated by the fish sauce, the lively spice of marinated Fresno chiles, the bright fragrant duet of white pepper & ginger, and sweet oceanic caress of the scallops.
In real life, jook is bare… typically just water and rice. But this is dream jook. And with dream jook, Bryant Ng is involved, and anything is possible.
The Spice Table, 114 S Central Ave., Los Angeles, TheSpiceTable.com