Korean congee and plant-based porridge 죽

What do you normally eat when you’re sick? 🤒

Is it soup? 🥣 Or is it something like pizza and cake? 🍕🍰

My guess is that it is something soft, easy to swallow and with a lot of liquid!
Maybe soup? 🥣 Maybe gruel? 🥣 Maybe porridge? 🥣

The Korean version of “food that you eat when you’re sick” is juk (죽)! 🇰🇷🥣🇰🇵

But it is by far more than something you eat when your body is weak! Juk can be breakfast, a main meal, an appetizer as well as dessert. Some consider juk as comfort food. ❤️ For vegans and vegetarians in Korea, certain kinds of juk can even serve as emergency food, if there is no other veggie-friendly food around! 🚨

What is juk and how do you eat it?

Rather than a single dish on its own, juk is a category of food! There is no dish simply called juk [unless it is an abbreviation]. As you will see below, there exists a diversity of juk – just like there are different varieties of bread and soup. 🥯🍞🥖🥨

The Korean word juk (죽 粥) is commonly translated as “rice porridge”, “congee” or “rice gruel” in English. All over the world, there are foods that appear to be similar. Close relatives in East Asia may be Chinese zhōu (粥) and Japanese okayu (お粥). Even Italy’s risotto and German Milchreis seem to have resemblances, but Korean juk is much more watery and the cooking method is quite different!

In essence, Korean porridge is a thick soup based on rice. 🥣 Its main ingredients are rice and water, cooked until the liquid thickens. 🍚➕💧 Note that the type of rice prevalent in Korea is short-grain rice, which is different in shape, taste and texture from long-grain rice and other cultivars used elsewhere. ⚪️ Both “regular” short-grain rice (mepssal 멥쌀) as well as glutinous short-grain rice (chapssal 찹쌀) appear in Korean porridge.

So what does juk taste like? Generally, Korean rice porridge is soft and gooey, although the texture varies depending on recipes or the individual cook. Sometimes, you can see grains of rice floating in the liquid mass. At other times, the porridge is very fine and smooth because it either has been blended or rice flour was used instead of rice grains.* Thanks to its soft mouthfeel, juk can also be consumed by people who have trouble chewing because of e.g. age, toothache or a recent dental surgery. 🦷

Adding more ingredients, such as other grains, rice cakes, vegetables, seaweed, mushrooms, meat, seafood or eggs, results in different kinds of juk with new flavors and textures. 👅 While traditional varieties are rather mild, modern juk creations feature stronger aromas from e.g. chili, roasted garlic and even cheese. 🌶🧄🧀

Furthermore, Korean rice porridge may have a few simple toppings, if any at all. 🍒 It can be garnished with a sprinkle of roasted sesame seeds, a pinch of seasoned gim (either gim garu 김가루 or gim jaban 김자반) or chopped scallions. If it is a special kind of juk, you can see more toppings, such as a few pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, slices of jujube, or cooked beans. But toppings are oftentimes minimal, and only rarely elaborate.

Most flavor comes with the side dishes (banchan 반찬)! When you eat juk as a main dish at a restaurant in Korea, each bowl is accompanied by a couple of side dishes which are characterized by strong flavors. A Korean meal always features kimchi, and one kimchi typically served together with porridge is dongchimi (동치미). By coincidence, dongchimi is a watery kimchi that is vegan-friendly! 💚🌱 Dongchimi tastes sweet and sour, and is very refreshing. The other sides that are combined with juk (e.g. braised beef, fermented seafood, napa cabbage kimchi), however, usually contain animal ingredients and are hence not suitable for vegans or vegetarians. ⚠️🐄🐟🦑 Each presents a very salty, spicy or umami flavor profile. 🧂🌶🟤 In this way, the intense aromas of the side dishes contrast the mild porridge and supplement flavor where necessary.

Technically, the question of how to eat rice porridge is answered quickly: With a spoon. 🥄 No other tools necessary. Chopsticks are provided merely to pick up side dishes as one pleases. 🥢 At a porridge restaurant, one additional tool may come in handy: A ladle to scoop portions of porridge into smaller bowls. In this way, the porridge cools down a little bit faster.

That’s because juk is normally eaten hot! ♨️ [I stopped counting how many times I burned my tongue while eating hot porridge…] Accordingly, juk is warming and soothing for throat and belly. 🧣 This makes porridge particularly pleasant to eat if you have a cold, a sore throat or a stomach ache.

What is the best time to eat congee, you ask? 🕖 Anytime! Not only when someone is not feeling well. Korean porridge is occasionally served for breakfast, instead of the usual bowl of rice. 🍚 It can be an entire meal if you get a large serving of it. At upscale Korean restaurants, a small portion of juk may be an appetizer during a multi-course menu. 1️⃣ There are even sweet varieties of rice porridge which are enjoyed for dessert! 🍧

What kinds of rice porridge are there? Which Korean porridge is vegan?

First off, there are infinitely many kinds of rice porridge! Considering Korea alone, a porridge restaurant has several dozens of juk on their menu.

Among those, more than a handful of juk are vegan and gluten-free by default! 🌱🚫🌾 Most of what is considered “traditional Korean porridge” (jeontong juk 전통죽) is vegan-friendly, whereas modern juk as well as local varieties tend to include all kinds of meat, seafood and fish. 🐟🦐🐓🐄🦪 Below are spoon-sized introductions about plant-based porridges of Korea!

White porridge 흰죽

This is the most basic kind of juk: White Porridge (huinjuk 흰죽). ⚪️ Literally, it consists of nothing but rice cooked in water. 🍚 White rice and clear water. The vanilla flavor on the porridge menu. Perfect when you crave that “mild and pure taste” (담백함). 🤍 Or when you have no appetite at all.

White juk is the standard sick food in Korea. This porridge is as plain as it gets and has only minimal seasoning. No proteins, no extra fibers, no oil or other fats. Just carbohydrates and water. Easy to swallow. Easy to digest. Easy on the senses. It’s the bland food, mild diet and light meal they prescribe most sick patients. Huinjuk is a great option if you can hardly swallow and chew anything 🤒, if you feel nauseous 🤢 or if you lost your appetite. 😶

Correspondingly, white porridge is not seasoned beforehand, but served with either salt or soy sauce so that everyone can season it according to personal preference. 🧂

Red Bean Porridge 팥죽

Besides rice and water, so-called red beans (pat 팥) are the key ingredient in Patjuk (팥죽). 🔴 The dish is colored reddish brown and has the mild but distinct, earthy aroma of red beans. While the skins of red beans can be consumed and are often left inside the porridge, some remove the fibrous bean skins after cooking to create a smoother texture. Regarding the taste, Patjuk is seasoned either slightly salty or sweet.

In addition to that, Patjuk is occasionally upgraded with small, ball-shaped rice cakes, which are referred to as sae-al (새알) or ongsimi (옹심이). 🍡 This is particularly the case when it is served as Dongji Patjuk (동지팥죽) for winter solstice. 🌕 Actually, Patjuk is quite a significant dish in Korean food history, so much so that there is an entire article dedicated to Patjuk and its cultural aspects.

Another version of Korean red bean porridge is Danpatjuk (단팥죽), “sweet red bean porridge”. 🍬 It is considered a dessert or a sweet treat, and enjoyed in smaller portions. Different to plain Patjuk is also that Danpatjuk is garnished with more toppings than other porridge dishes.

Pumpkin Porridge 호박죽

When you see an orange-colored dish in Korea, chances are it contains pumpkin. 🎃 Juk with pumpkin is largely distinguished into “sweet pumpkin porridge”, Danhobak-juk (단호박죽), and “pumpkin porridge”, Hobak-juk (호박죽). If you are familiar with Korea’s pumpkins, you should know danhobak (단호박), the so-called “sweet pumpkin“, which is also used for porridge. But the name Danhobak-juk does not reveal whether danhobak was used or whether the dish simply tastes sweet! The orange flesh of several pumpkin varieties can be used for Korean pumpkin porridge, and it is common practice to add sweeteners to enhance the flavor. Sweeteners are sugar, syrup or even honey [very rarely]. 🍯🐝

Calling the dish Danhobak-juk or Hobak-juk is more a question of whether the pumpkin-flavored porridge is sweet or less sweet. 🍬 Korean pumpkin porridge can be enjoyed as the main dish or for dessert. In this regard, it is one of a few Korean foods that are considered a meal despite the sweetness!

The consistency may vary in that sometimes the pumpkin flesh has been blended or it is a little bit chunky. Contrary to Western-style pumpkin soup, this pumpkin porridge is always thick and gooey. The addition of rice flour helps creating a silky texture. As with Patjuk, there are occasionally rice cakes floating in Hobak-juk, adding a chewy element to the dish. 🍡

Black Sesame Porridge 흑임자죽

One trademark of Heugimjajuk (흑임자죽) is the enigmatic, dark color. ⚫️ This is because of black sesame, which is a prominent ingredient in some areas of Korean cooking. ♣️ Besides its color, also the taste and texture is dominated by roasted sesame seeds: There are nutty and roasted aromas, and the slightly gritty texture of ground sesame. Apart from that, the porridge is seasoned only with salt.

Pine Nut Porridge 잣죽

Here’s another special ingredient of Korean cuisine: Pine nuts! 🌲 Pine nuts are the star in Jatjuk (잣죽), a pale yellow or almost white porridge. 🟡 The peeled nuts, which are used raw and ground finely, impart a subtle fragrance and certain richness to the dish. Traditionally, Jatjuk consists only of pine nuts, rice, water and salt. Curiously enough, the combination of ingredients in pine nut porridge creates a surprising aroma reminiscent of chicken stock. 🚫🐓 [At least that is the case for me!] Apart from that, it has a very mild taste (담백함) and a creamy consistency. 🚫🥛 [Without dairy being necessary!]

Since pine nuts are traditionally a precious food item in Korea, Jatjuk is less common and more expensive than other plant-based porridges. 💲💲💲 It is claimed to be a “health food” or rather “nourishment” (보양식), because of the additional nutrients inside pine nuts.

Mung Bean Porridge 녹두죽

To be honest, the appearance of Nokdujuk (녹두죽) is not very appealing… 🤮 The greenish or brown-green color may look unappetizing, but this kind of porridge is rather nutritious since mung beans (nokdu 녹두) are the main ingredient. 🟢

The beans are cooked whole and thus dye the dish green-brown. The finished porridge is prepared either with or without bean skins, which may have been strained out similar to Patjuk.

Nokdujuk has a floury mouthfeel, as typical for cooked and mashed beans. Naturally, the dish also has the subtle scent of mung beans, but otherwise its taste is rather mild. This porridge, too, is only lightly salted.

Other kinds of veggie-friendly juk

Apart from these classic Korean rice porridges, there are countless more! Below are typical Korean combinations and further ideas for those home-cooks out there!

Vegetable porridge 야채죽.

Vegetable porridge (yachaejuk 야채죽) is another frequent variety of juk. However, the vegetable porridge offered at most restaurants is not recommended for vegans or vegetarians because the broth is most likely made with anchovies (myeolchi 멸치) or other animal ingredients. ⚠️🐟 If you need plant-based food, it is definitely safer to cook this porridge at home.

Korean vegetable porridge typically contains rice plus small pieces of vegetables, mushrooms and seaweed, e.g. carrots, onion, potatoes, broccoli, young pumpkin (aehobak 애호박), garlic chives (buchu 부추), shiitake mushrooms and dasima (다시마).** 🥕🥦🥬🥒🌶🧅🥔🍄🌿

A particularly Korean type of porridge is Nurungjijuk (누룽지죽). The (intentionally) scorched rice called nurungji (누룽지) can be enjoyed in a number of ways, and one of them is as juk! 🍚 Boiling the dried, hard rice in water until it thickens is enough to turn it into porridge. It can be eaten as bland as it is, while the roasted aroma of the browned rice still makes it a flavorful experience!

Peanut porridge (ttangkongjuk 땅콩죽) is not a traditional Korean porridge, but has become more popular in recent times. 🥜 Depending on whether roasted or unroasted peanuts have been used, the color of the final dish is darker or lighter, respectively. 🟠 Other than that, it is a simple yet nutritious rice porridge with the nutty aroma of ground peanuts. A dish that is easily made at home and occasionally served in small portions at noble Korean restaurants.

After all, the diversity of juk has no limits, and they are usually named according to the primary ingredients flavoring the dish. In that sense, it should suffice to simply mention other Korean examples of veggie-friendly porridge flavors: Sweet potato porridge 🍠 (고구마죽), porridge with mushrooms 🍄 (버섯죽), porridge with seaweed such as maesaengi (매생이죽) 🌊🌿, bean porridge (콩죽) et cetera…

Can you make your own congee?

It is NOT HARD [no pun intended 😬] to make juk if you have a few ingredients and tools at hand! Other than rice and water, making porridge only needs some time and attention at the stove! So if you have access to a kitchen, you could cook your own congee with your preferred ingredients! 👨🏿‍🍳🧑🏾‍🍳👩🏼‍🍳

Rather than a precise recipe, here are some simple instructions for basic Korean porridge: A small amount of white rice (100g) is enough for more than 10 times its weight in water (1000g / 1l). While stirring occasionally, cook everything gently for 20-30 minutes, until the liquid starts to thicken while the rice grains soften and loose shape.

Cooking porridge with the broth leftover from a stew. At Dotori Kalguksu 도토리칼국수. Seoul 2021.

Apart from white rice ⚪️, also unpolished brown rice (hyeonmi 현미) can be used for juk, although it needs to be soaked in water beforehand and simmered for a longer time. 🟤 Instead of using raw or soaked rice, it is also possible to make juk with leftover rice – that porridge will be done much faster! 🍚

With regards to the liquid component, water is most basic but it can be replaced by any kind of broth. At some Korean restaurants, after you had a meal featuring a Korean-style hot pot or large stew (jeongol 전골), the remaining soup is used to cook porridge right on your table!

Where can you find juk? What is the price of Korean porridge?

If you do not want to or cannot cook at home, there are many alternatives for you to get juk in South Korea!

To begin with, there are restaurants that specialize in juk and their entire menu is filled with diverse kinds of Korean porridge! Look for anything with the word “juk” in the location’s name because it is probably a porridge restaurant. Large franchises such as Bonjuk (본죽) and Juk Story (죽이야기) exist all over the country and offer a few plant-based options.*** The fact that every Korean buffet has a section with juk shows that it is an essential part of Korean cuisine. Sweet varieties of juk, namely Danhobakjuk and Danpatjuk, are available at some traditional Korean tea houses (jeontong chatjip 전통 찻집) as well.

Other local alternatives are food vendors on traditional markets – there is always at least one stall that sells traditional juk. The most common ones are red bean porridge and pumpkin porridge, which should be vegan by default. At such Korean markets, a few stalls have a sit-in option, but most sell porridge for take-away.

In contemporary South Korea, convenience stores and supermarkets naturally stock instant foods including pre-made porridge in plastic bags or plastic bowls. There are several companies that produce porridge and each manufacturer adds their own ingredients. Check the ingredient list to find plant-based or vegetarian-friendly versions. ❗️ For some reason, many industrially produced juk contain dairy, egg, honey or other animal-based ingredients, and deviate from traditional recipes. ⚠️🥛🥚🦐

Now you may wonder, how much does porridge cost in Korea? Prices vary depending on the type of juk, location and size. Yet, it is rather inexpensive in comparison to other Korean meals. At a restaurant or market, the price for one large bowl of vegan-friendly juk ranges between 5.000 KRW and 15.000 KRW. 💲 Because of the high water content, juk can be quite filling and such a serving may satisfy two people! 👤🥣🥣👤 Portions at convenience stores and supermarkets, however, are usually smaller and one-person servings.

Con[gee]clusion

Rice porridge is as diverse as its ingredients. Being based on short-grain rice, Korean congee features certain flavor combinations and eating customs. Juk has savory as well as sweet variations, which today offer anything between bland and stimulating taste experiences. Albeit the traditional and vegan options represent mostly mild flavors.

Overall, juk dishes are common, affordable and widely available in Korea. Therefore it is advisable for vegans, vegetarians and people with gluten-intolerance to know what kinds of juk they can eat and where to find them. In this way, plant-based juk can become a reliable source of food anytime and anywhere in the country.

It should be noted that juk is not automatically a “healing food” or a “health food”. Most kinds of rice porridge are rather food that can be consumed without straining the digestive system while the weakened body recovers! It keeps anyone hydrated and nourished with basic energy. To actually make it healthy, you can add ingredients which could actively contribute to the healing process or provide more nutrition. [In Korean food culture, there is a vast assortment of ingredients ascribed with medicinal properties. 💊]

Regardless of any physical ailments, juk is simply a comforting and warming meal. 🥣 This food can be enjoyed by everyone, including babies and elderly people who cannot chew well. 👶👩‍🦳👨‍🦳 It’s a soothing soup on a gloomy day. ☔️ It helps healing body and soul. 💗

In the end, let’s go back to the question at the beginning of the post:

What foods do YOU eat when you are sick? 🤧😷🤒🤕 Any specific dishes that your parents urged you to eat, while recovering from a fever or a cold?

***

Additional notes

*) A refined form of porridge is called mieum (미음) or mijuk (미죽), which is characterized by more liquid and a delicate consistency. It can be filtered through a strainer to remove large pieces of grains.

**) This are the key ingredients for the vegetable porridge at the franchise Bonjuk (본죽). Their original recipe, however, is not vegan.

***) After written inquiry, the company Bonjuk (본죽) assured me that the following dishes at their branches are plant-based and gluten-free: Sweet Pumpkin Porridge (danhobak-juk 단호박죽), Red Bean Porridge (dongji patjuk 동지팥죽), Sweet Red Bean Porridge (danpatjuk 단팥죽), Black Sesame Porridge (heugimja-juk 흑임자죽), Pine Nut Porridge (jatjuk 잣죽), Mung Bean Porridge (nokdujuk 녹두죽), White Porridge (huinjuk 흰죽).

2 thoughts on “Korean congee and plant-based porridge 죽

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  1. Regarding my childhood, I grew up overseas, but my Korean father used to cook juk if anyone in the family fell sick. Although I refused to eat plain oat meal, I would eat juk – but only if it was cold. 😂 [Apologies to my parents, I was always a picky eater…]

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