In China, Congee is commonly served like the American chicken soup – when you are not feeling well. And not feeling well definitely includes hangovers, which are common in Asians who have a genetic predisposition to them.
The Chinese drink of choice is Baijiu, a clear alcohol made from fermented sorghum or rice. It is the most-consumed alcoholic beverage in China, and because of the large population, in the world. In fact, in 2016 5 billion liters of Baijiu were sold.
Unfortunately for those who enjoy the drink, many Asians are lacking the enzyme that digests alcohol. That enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH 2), is actually what helps prevent hangovers. The result of the lower enzyme level, on top of the 30 percent and higher alcohol content of the rice wine, is that Asians get drunk faster and end up with worse hangovers. A high level of acetaldehyde also gives the drinker a very red face, a sign of the suffering to come.
That also means a powerful hangover cure is necessary. That’s where congee comes in.
Congee is a rice porridge, made using chicken stock, rice, ginger and green onion. Elements of congee can be changed, such as adding meat or eggs or using fish stock. Cantonese congee uses pork bone.
Essentially, the broth hydrates the body after overindulging while the rice absorbs the remaining alcohol in your stomach. Ginger is commonly used as a natural anti-nausea medicine and green onion, if your stomach can handle it, is a simple way to add flavor.
Congee can be made ahead, so if you plan to go out partying, have a batch ready to warm when you wake up the next morning. You’ll feel right as rain in no time at all. If you didn’t make plans, the chicken-rice soup from the local restaurant will do, just ask them to add a bit of ginger – they’ll understand.