Congee is often served plain or with simple toppings such as chopped scallions or cilantro, but there are countless ways to add flavor, texture, and nutrients to this already delicious dish. Here are 40 different toppings, add-ins, and garnishes that you can use to take your bowl of congee to the next level
What is Congee?
Congee (aka jook) is a simple and delicious Chinese rice porridge made by boiling rice and water (or stock). The fun part of eating congee is when you start to customize it by adding toppings and garnishes to it.
One of the cool things about congee is, it's not limited to just having it when you are feeling under the weather and sick. You can also enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner as well, or if you're like me you crave it as comfort food.
One batch of congee can be eaten in several different ways depending on what type of congee toppings you add to it! You can keep it simple with a few congee toppings or go nuts and add a lot and make a heavy meal out of it!
If you're looking for a simple creamy congee recipe to start you off, I have a chicken congee recipe. This is the go-to recipe that I use at home every time I make congee. You can easily omit the chicken portion of that recipe and make a plain white congee with that recipe as well.
Classic Traditional Congee Toppings
These are the classic congee toppings that most people are familiar with and use.
- Pork Floss - This dried shredded pork has loads of umami flavor (mainly from the MSG) and is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to give your congee a boost.
- Green Onions - Also known as spring onions, or scallions. Finely chop it and add it to your congee for a bit of freshness, with a hint of onion flavor. You can also use garlic chives or chives as well.
- White Pepper - Depending on how much you add, this adds a lightly spiced flavor to your congee. If you add a lot, it may make it slightly spicy as well. Do not substitute this with black pepper, black pepper is a lot stronger in flavor and may overpower your congee. It also has a different flavor profile as well.
- Cilantro - Cilantro is a hit or miss for some people, so I would only use this if you are okay with the flavor of it. It adds a bit of freshness to the congee.
- Youtiao (Chinese Fried Dough Sticks) - This is a classic ingredient to eat alongside congee. You can leave them whole as long sticks and dip them in your congee or you can chop them into small pieces and mix them into the congee. I personally like to dip it because it keeps it crispier, whereas if you mix it directly into the congee it will get soggier. You can find these at some Chinese bakeries and supermarkets but I have also found these in the frozen section of Chinese supermarkets as well. If you buy them frozen, you will need to bake or air fry them to get them crispy before you eat them.
Protein (Eggs and Meat)
- Raw Egg Yolk - Adding a raw egg yolk gives the congee a bit of creaminess.
- Soft-Boiled Egg - If you're not a fan of raw eggs, you can also soft boil an egg or poach an egg in water before adding it to your congee. It makes the congee creamy and gives a very cozy feel.
- Fried Egg - When I'm lazy (and I often am), a fried egg is the way to go. I find it a lot easier to make than a soft-boiled or poached egg and it cooks a lot faster because you don't need to wait for boiling water. I personally like to make my fried egg sunny side up so I can still have that runny yolk.
- Salted Duck Egg - I love adding salted duck egg because of how salty it is but the best part of it is the delicious yolk. You can buy salted duck eggs pre-cooked or raw at the Chinese supermarket. I personally like to buy the raw ones and cook them in a pot of boiling water myself at home because I don't know how long the pre-cooked ones have been sitting on the shelf.
- Century Egg (Pi Dan, 皮蛋) - Some like to cook this with their congee, but you can also use it as a congee topping as well since the curing process makes it edible as-is. Once the shell is washed and peeled, you can chop it into smaller pieces and add them directly to your cooked congee. It's hard to describe the flavors of this egg but if you love it, you love it! I find the yolk gives congee a bit of buttery richness. You can find them at any Chinese grocery store.
- Crispy Pan-Fried Spam - Spam brings a lot of umami and saltiness to the congee. They must be pan-fried before you add this to the congee to give it a crispier texture. (Spam out of the can has a soft and slimy texture). Chop them up into small cubes and pan-fry them with a bit of oil before using this as one of your congee toppings.
- Chinese Sausage (Lap Cheong) - Chinese sausage adds a delicious sweet and savory flavor to your congee, especially after it has been toasted in the pan, which concentrates the flavor. I like to slice them thinly or dice them before I pan-fry them into a dark red color.
- Shredded Imitation Crab Meat - Don't worry it's already cooked and you can eat it right from the package. It's nice using it as a topping because the residual heat warms it up and doesn't make the fishiness come out as much. It's sweet and savory and quite tasty as a congee topping! I like to call them MSG sticks!
- Shredded Leftover Rotisserie Chicken - This is technically not a topping but it's something I often do as a super easy way to add protein to my congee. It's definitely not just limited to just chicken, you can use any type of leftover meat but I find the flavor from the rotisserie chicken adds a lot of flavor from the seasoned skin.
- Chinese Chili Oil - Any type of Chinese chili oil will work, but definitely pick one you love to add to your noodles and rice. I personally like really onion-y or garlicky ones that aren't too spicy but when I'm in a rush I just use Laoganma Chili Crisp since I always have that on hand. Alternatively, I will also use my Miso Garlic Chili Oil as well.
- Ginger Scallion Sauce - This sauce tastes amazing with plain white rice so it's only natural that it'd be fantastic with white congee. If you have leftovers of this sauce kicking around I'd definitely add it to congee. If you want to make it from scratch, I also have an Easy Ginger Scallion Sauce you can make to add to the congee as well.
- Oyster Sauce - This thick sauce will give you a salty and umami flavor with a touch of sweetness. It will also give you a bit of a seafood flavor as well. If I use this, I will use it alone without any other sauces to flavor my congee because I find it very flavorful and balanced as-is.
- Sesame oil - If you want a bit of nutty or sesame flavor, add a little sesame oil. A little goes a long way, you don't need a lot and it's easy to use too much which will overpower your congee. Start by adding in ¼ teaspoon and do a taste test, if you want more, keep adding in ¼ teaspoon increments.
- Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce - This is straight up salty and umami flavor. Instead of salt, use either soy sauce or fish sauce!
- Sriracha - If you like garlicky with a hint of spiciness, then this hot sauce will cover that!
- Gochujang - This will give you a hint of spiciness but mostly a salty, sweet, umami kick with a bit of fermented flavor.
- Sweet Soy Sauce like Kecap Manis - If you want a hit of sweetness then kecap manis works very well to do it. Keep in mind that it is a very sweet and syrupy sauce and you may need to balance it out with a bit of saltiness.
- Fresh Lime Juice - If you're looking for a fresh and tangy kick then a squirt of fresh lime juice will do it. It's especially good to use if you want something like a sweet, salty sour balance without using vinegar.
- Miso - This will give you a salty and umami flavor to your congee. I personally don't taste the fermented flavor, and it is a lot lighter in fermented flavor than Fermented Red Bean Curd. I find it quite tricky to mix directly into congee evenly so I would mix it with a bit of water until it is a more watery paste before adding it in. Alternatively, you can also make a batch of miso butter and just add it right in as well! It's easy to make and super easy to melt into anything!
Crunchy & Fried Toppings
Adding crunchy and crispy textures to your congee really elevates it and gives congee a whole new experience, especially when these crunchy toppings have a lot of flavor like garlic and onions.
- Roasted Peanuts - Depending on how crunchy you want it, you can add roasted peanuts either whole or crushed.
- Toasted Sesame Seeds - This adds a bit of nuttiness to your congee. Make sure you toasted it before you use it as a topping. Toasting it for a few minutes in a frying pan (without oil) really brings out the nuttiness and makes them a bit more crispy as well.
- Crispy Fried Garlic - I like to make a big batch of this to keep around to add to my soups and congee. It's super easy to make and keeps for about a month.
To make it, you finely chop garlic and deep fry it in oil in a small pot. I would add the garlic into the cold oil, that way you won't accidentally burn it and you can slowly see it cook to a golden color. Once the garlic turns a light golden brown color, turn off the heat and remove it from the oil onto a paper towel to dry. Once the garlic is dry, you can store it in an air-tight container at room temperature. Save the garlic oil and use it in your cooking!
- Crispy Fried Onions or Shallots - Although you can make this at home, I usually like using the ones I find at the Asian grocery store because I find them less greasy and it is very easy to burn these if you slice them unevenly. These fried onions add a nice, sweet, crispy onion flavor to the congee.
- Crispy Wonton Chips - If you want a simple crispy topping, you can quickly deep fry some wonton or dumpling wrappers in a frying pan for some crispy wonton chip topping!
Pickled and Preserved Vegetables
If you're not familiar with Asian pickled vegetables, shopping for it may be overwhelming. It definitely was for me.
My rule of thumb when adding pickled vegetables is to always check the ingredient list on the packaging. What kind of flavor am I going for? If you're looking for something sweet and sour, make sure there's sugar and vinegar in the ingredient list, but if you're looking for something salty then make sure it only contains salt and nothing else.
If you know what you're looking for but don't know the naming of it (because literally, every single package says 'Pickled Greens'), use the Chinese below to compare to the packaging. To easily find the name of the pickle, look for the word: 菜 which means vegetable, and either compare the character before or after that word.
- Pickled Mustard Greens (Suan Cai, Shuen Choy in Cantonese, 酸菜) - This pickled green is salty and sour like sauerkraut. You can find this at any Chinese supermarket or on Amazon.
- Preserved Mustard Greens (Mei Cai, Mui Choy in Cantonese, 梅菜) - If you're looking for something salty and slightly sweet, then this preserved green will give you that flavor. You must soak and rinse it out very well to remove all the sand before you can use it. Once it has been cleaned, you can finely chop it and add it to the congee.
- Kimchi - This Korean fermented napa cabbage is salty, sour, and garlicky. The older the kimchi is, the more fizzy and sour it will be. To serve it, finely chop it up. You can find these at Korean supermarkets.
- Preserved Sweet Radish (Diam Chai Poh, Choy Poh in Cantonese, 菜脯) - This preserved radish can be found at any Chinese supermarket and they come in both salty or sweet, but I find the sweet ones taste much better as a congee topping. It has a sweet and savory taste with a bit of a toothy crunch.
- Pickled Mustard Green Stem (Zha Cai, Ja Choy in Cantonese, 榨菜) - This pickled mustard stem is usually salty (with a lot of umami). Depending on the brand it can also be a bit spicy as well. You can buy this at Chinese supermarkets as a whole tuber (that you need to finely chop yourself) or you can buy them in small individual packages that are pre-chopped for you. You can also find these online on Amazon as well.
Other Congee Toppings
- Furikake - This Japanese seasoning, adds a bit of saltiness and crunchiness. Some also add a bit of smokiness if they use bonito flakes in them. You can find these easily at any Asian grocery store, but I like to make a batch using my homemade furikake recipe which I find has a bit more flavor from the dried gochujang and miso powder.
- Roasted Seaweed Snacks - I highly recommend using the roasted seaweed snacks, the ones that have salt on it already and are super brittle and crispy, instead of the nori sheets that is used for sushi. The seaweed snacks have a lot more flavor which subtle hints of sesame oil flavor as well. I like to crush it up with my hands and put it on top of my congee right before I eat it.
- Fermented bean curd - This gives congee a delicious salty umami flavor with a bit of fermented flavor that I find tastes a bit like cooking wine. To make it easier to mix more evenly into congee, I like to pre-mash this into smaller pieces before adding it directly in.
- Shiitake Mushrooms Braised in Sweet Soy Sauce - I love making this to add to my congee or white rice. You can use either fresh shiitake mushrooms or dried but you'll need to reconstitute the dried ones in a bit of hot water before you can use them. I mix a bit of sugar with soy sauce and add water to the mixture to make a watered-down sweet soy sauce and braise it with sliced shiitake mushrooms until the mushrooms absorb all the sauce and then it's done!
- Dried Shrimp - When you toast these little dried baby shrimp in a frying pan, it makes them crispier and brings out the flavor a bit more. Dried baby shrimp give congee a bit of saltiness and give it a bit of seafood umami-ness as well.
- Fried Dace with Salted Black Beans - This is the canned fish that has been deep fried and soaked in oil with salted black beans. It's absolutely delicious and full of umami. The fried fish taste more like jerky than fried fish and the salted black beans provide little pops of saltiness in the congee. You can find these at most Chinese supermarkets or you can find it online on Amazon.
If you have any congee toppings that you like to use that I missed on my list, let me know in the comments! I love to hear from you and I love getting new ideas to try.
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