I grew up on congee (rice porridge), either with a plain egg when I was sick or—when my family wanted a heaping (and seemingly endless) pot of soul-warming food—densely packed with fish, shrimp, chicken, fermented (and addictively salty) black beans, crunchy bean sprouts, fried garlic, chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. So the other night, when my server at chef Akhtar Nawab's new spot in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, Elettaria, said the restaurant served an appetizer special similar to congee, I had to have it. What I got wasn't quite the delicious mess I was used to, but delicious on a whole other refined level.
I recently talked to Nawab about the dish, which he says started out as a kichidi ("For babies or when you're sick," says Nawab, "It's the Indian version of rice porridge with lentils and rice"), but is now more similar to Philippino rice porridge, or lugaw. While Nawab is still playing around with accompaniments, like various fish (triggerfish, black cod) and meats (he'll introduce braised tripe tonight), the mainstays for his lugaw stay the same: long-grain Thai sticky rice ("It breaks apart better for great mouthfeel," he says) slow-simmered for about two hours with fried garlic and ginger, fish sauce and a pinch of sugar, then topped with a quail egg either fried a la plancha or softly boiled and breaded.
Since the evenings are still colder than I'd like them to be (the white tree blossoms all over the city are such a tease), maybe I'll attempt to make a simplified version of Nawab's lugaw at home—ie. without the tripe and quail egg. Or maybe I'll just head over to Congee Village, and order some of his favorites, like the abalone and chicken congee.