Guangzhou is a paradise for a foodie. Walking through the streets, you are immersed in the sights and smells of the local cuisine. The city is a battlefield of various snacks, such as fried rice noodles, oyster omelets, ginger milk curd, crispy banana fritters, spring rolls and so on. Among all those mouthwatering dishes, Sampan porridge, or tang jai jook in Cantonese, is a perfect choice for people who are seeking a healthier snack with an authentic flavor.
Unlike many examples of other new-born dishes, sampan porridge has a long history. Tracing back to Qing Dynasty and originating in Lychee Bay, Guangzhou, the People of Dan who lived on the water first created sampan porridge. Starting out as a living place for the Dan people, sampans later became cruise boats for tourists and served as a hangout for celebrities and litterateurs. To attract more customers and make a fortune, the People of Dan made good use of local natural resources. They introduced and sold porridge, which won wide acclaim with its unique and fresh flavor of the sea. There is also a beautiful story of how the first sampan porridge was ever made. A Dan girl named Jin Shui set free a fish. In return, the fish turned into a fairy and told Jin Shui the cure for her father’s serious illness. And the magical cure is to make a bowl of what we now call “sampan porridge”.
Enjoying sampan porridge is a great pleasure but making it is rather a hard task. In fact, making sampan porridge requires many procedures. Just as bricks to a building, preparing ingredients is the first and most important step to cook any food, and sampan porridge in particular, as it’s known for its wide range and high quality of ingredients. Rice and water are the key to a good porridge, so mountain water and Longmen rice are preferred. Then the porridge is seasoned with other ingredients including pink shrimp, red lean meat slices, green onion, brown fried peanuts, golden fried-dough slices and so on. There’s not a fixed recipe of ingredients—anything you want can be added. In addition, instead of using an electric rice cooker, some inheritors adopt special cooking methods to ensure the exact texture and thickness of the porridge. A one-meter tall and half-a-meter wide water stove is used to boil the rice for hours. When you try a spoonful, you’ll be astounded at how all the ingredients play a harmonious symphony in your mouth, all in one, one in all.
Ingredients of Sampan Porridge
The secret to sampan porridge’s long-lasting popularity lies not only in its rich taste, but in its craftsmanship. The admirable dedication is what keeps sampan porridge enduring and unfading. The special cooking process is time-consuming. The chefs who prepare it usually have to get up early in the morning, heat the water stove and begin boiling. More importantly, they try to keep pace with the times and reform the craft. They add new life to the ancient dish by bringing new tastes. For example, some would serve chicken soup as a base and add salmon when the porridge boils.
No trip to Guangzhou is complete without a taste of sampan porridge. You’re not only enjoying merely a bowl of freshly-boiled porridge, but also having a taste of the depth of its history, the innovation of its craftsmanship, and the inclusiveness of the melting pot that is embedded in the city’s DNA. Above all, it’s a great comfort food. There’s nothing that can’t be solved over an enticing meal. If it can’t be solved in one meal, have two.