If Yan Could Cook. . .

Congee Wong

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JP and I come up with any excuse we can to go to Markham, Ontario. He needs his license renewed. I want to visit a friend in Toronto. It’s his birthday.

Markham has few virtues. Commercial parks are separated by huge stretches of empty sprawl and multi-lane roads and highways. There are few sidewalks and no pedestrians anywhere. The public transit is a confusing, expensive mess of overlapping regions and juristictions (are we in Toronto? York? Markham? Did we just pass from one into the other?). There is no shade in the brilliant smog heat of summer, no protection from the blinding white of winter. On our most recent trip we gave in and rented a car, joining the invisible population. Though we both hate driving, I got deathly car sick, and JP left his keys, cellphone, and watch in the car after we returned it, it was one of my better road trips.

Why do we go? JP has a few reasons, all of them edible, but mine is Congee Wong.

Markham is dominated by its Chinese community. One only sees other people in select places (“white malls” are the minority, and they tend to include a deserted or out-of-business restaurant). The first time we went, we were walking through a food court and I said, “Hey, look, another white guy!”
JP responded, “Oh…I know him!” And he did. I was still laughing about that months later.

If I could only go to one restaurant for the rest of my life (I would ponder suicide, but then) I’d choose Congee Wong. If I lived nearby, I would systematically conquer all 248 items on the menu (not including drinks). It is simply the best Chinese food I have ever had, and it is gutter cheap. Insane cheap. Feed two people who haven’t eaten all day for under $20 cheap. I would be a much happier woman if I could stop off there every morning for a large $3.95 bowl of congee.

They serve something they refer to as “garlic sauce” (I suggest on a big heap of young, dark, perfect Chinese broccoli/Gai-lan) that I have been trying furiously to recreate. I think it involves minced and dried garlic, red chilis, a touch of dried shrimp, cornstarch, soy sauce, and oil – and then the hand of god.

All the food feels like it’s done right, a feeling which is hard to further explain. You could not change it. You could not improve it. It could not be more harmonious. Nothing could be more right with the world.

On one occasion we were seated right by the kitchen and I wished we had ordered every dish that passed. I am big on shrimp dishes there, because the shrimp is always so meaty and tasty and fresh and never overcooked: the tiger shrimp congee, the shrimp rice noodle rolls, the shrimp and broccoli (I dream regularly about broccoli soaking in their garlic sauce). Restaurant congee is always better than congee made at home, as it is usually cooked for many hours for that creaminess that shines and lingers in the mouth. Congee Wong is a step further still. The flavour is the flavour I associate with congee – salty, subtle, and soothing – only more intense, more present. JP favours the fried rice noodles with beef in X.O. sauce, which has that magic level of heat such that it stings, yet you could eat the whole platter first thing in the morning – which we have done.

Scatter my ashes in the parking lot.

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Written by skimfu

August 12, 2009 at 12:13 am

Posted in Restaurant Reviews

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