Friday, October 25, 2013

Milkfish (and Belly) Porridge in Tainan, Taiwan 虱目魚粥

I usually like my rice porridge or congee more soupy than thick and starchy. How about you? So between Cantonese porridge in which the rice is boiled longer then cooked down with the soup broth or water to a thick and smooth consistency; versus Hokkien-style (also Teochew-style) porridge in which rice grains in the porridge are soft yet intact (you still have to bite and chew on the rice) with visible rice grains and brothy soup distinctly separated in that same bowl of porridge yielding a typically more soupy/watery porridge, I tend to choose the latter.

Milkfish belly porridge, @ 阿星咸粥

Hokkien-style porridge may be cooked in two ways - either soup is directed ladled over cooked rice 泡饭/饭汤 or the rice grains are cooked with a high proportion of fluid (water or broth) till the grains absorb broth flavors. I prefer the latter.

It is my first time trying milkfish porridge 虱目魚粥 and this has by far become my favorite Tainan or Taiwan dish or snack (breakfast). I enjoy it very much, perhaps because I have always enjoyed Hokkien-style porridge.

Milkfish belly porridge, seafood combination porridge, and pan-fried milkfish belly, @阿堂咸粥

A lot of milkfish porridge stalls in Tainan open really early, as early as 5.30am (some even open 24 hours!). The locals and early-birds sure have a good breakfast before they start their day.

Pan-fried milkfish belly, @台南蔡

Fried shallots, fried garlic, finely chopped coriander and scallions are never missing in the Taiwan milkfish porridge. These ordinary condiments are definitely the flavor punch to an otherwise ordinary-looking porridge, and make the broth exceptionally savory and delicious. Milkfish may be notoriously boney but all the milkfish here have been de-boned and makes enjoying the porridge such a delight.

Seafood combination (oyster, milkfish, flaked pan-fried milkfish) porridge @阿堂咸粥

We tried a few savory porridge stalls, some mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall "old stores" 老店 such as more than 40 years 阿堂咸粥 and 阿星咸粥 and chain stores like 台南蔡.  

阿堂咸粥 - Ah Tang Savory Porridge is famous among local travelers and tourists but personally I think it is over-hyped. Of all, I like 阿星咸粥 Ah Xing Savory Porridge, better. Though the menu at 阿星咸粥 is limited (does not offer combination seafood, or pan-fried milkfish belly), they kept it simple and done it really well. The light and clear broth of 阿星咸粥 is savory and delicious, a tasty fish broth indeed. 阿堂 milkfish porridge broth borrows the flavors from the pan-fried mackerel flakes and fresh oyster  - it is also tasty but I prefer the umami-savory-sweet and distinct taste of fish broth.

Stall addresses:
阿星咸粥, 台南市民族路三段289號, 0600-1300hrs
阿堂咸粥, 台南市西門路一段728 , 0530-1230hrs


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