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Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Chao Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Rice Porridge) and Whether Food Equals Love

Chao Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Rice Porridge) 1

Toward the end of our trip to the Bay Area, lil' sis got sick. The night we got in, I doused her with Theraflu and Airborne. The next morning, she was still feeling sickly, so I made her chicken soup, the Vietnamese version of course. By late afternoon, the combination of medicine and Vietnamese chao ga did its trick and I declared her fit enough to drive to Vegas to celebrate her birthday with the girls.

I had a much more pedestrian evening, inviting a handful of friends over for dinner.

Later that night, my friend caught me online and after our usual pleasantries veered into a discussion about whether food equates to love. For me, the answer is rather obvious. For him, decidedly the opposite.

Friend: man
you are into food
you got to keep up working with that field
you really like food
and talking about food
it's just not like that for most people

Me: i like feeding people who enjoy being fed

Friend: i for example
say "i ate dinner"
i don't think about the food once it's gone
that's the point
i don't pay any attention really
it's not important to me really
you have an interest
you need to keep doing something with it
that is my point

Me: yes, b/c food = love

Friend: that's in no way true

Me: it is in my family or for me

Friend: but you do have a sincere interest

Me: for instance, lil' sis is sick. she asked for me to make her chao. i went to the store and made her fresh chao ga with scallion cilantro dipping sauce
she ate it and was comforted by warm soup and the knowledge that i loved her enough to make her something she wanted and needed
but food does = love
lil' sis says thank you for taking care of her and for being the best sister

Friend: you'll never, ever get me to agree with you on that
just proceed

Me: i made chao b/c i love her and know she would appreciate it
she eats it b/c she loves me and appreciates the effort

Friend: the argument will not persuade

Me: my bro just told her on the phone to take her medicine
well, it only works if you appreciate and understand the gesture
if food doesn't mean anything to you, then me cooking for you won't change that
for instance, my bro could eat it or not, makes no difference to him
he doesn't appreciate it when i cook for him. i'm eating it, aren't i, he says
and that's that

Friend: i find the intention, the effort and the concern entirely separate from the food
it's an inanimate substance
with no inherent properties
there's nothing transitive about the principles

Me: but the intention, effort and concern are part of it all. the tangible part is the food
reading the msg behind how that food came about is where you find the love

Friend: but these things are not the food
the food is a pile of inanimate mass
you speak as an artist
or some sort of creative person

Me: certainly when it comes to food
the flavors, the seasonings, the presentation

Friend: these ideas have no place in my brain
i'm the least creative person on earth
and the least "passionate"

Me: if i made you fresh doughnuts
or beignets
or tacos

Friend: i would see 2 things
1.) food
2.) a nice gesture

Me: you wouldn't read into my effort to make something i knew you would like?
esp if this had taken place when you were in Vietnam and were craving those very foods?

Friend: your effort would be appreciated
you keep mixing the thing up
the food has nothing to do with the emotions
the emotions are entirely free standing
they exist on their own

So what do you think? Do you agree with me? Or with my friend?

Chao Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Rice Porridge) 2

Chao Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Rice Porridge)

For a 2-quart pot of rice porridge, you'll need:
4 chicken thighs or whatever portion you like, bone-in
1 tsp salt
2 cups jasmine rice

Optional: Serve this with my Chinese Scallion Cilantro Dipping Sauce

One of my favorite methods for making a quick and flavorful broth is to boil the water and bones at a high temperature. This extracts the maximum flavor from the bones, although it can sometimes leave the broth cloudy. Hence, why really good ramen broth looks milky. If you have the time, simmer at a lower temperature for longer, but I had a sick lil' sis who needed food in a jiffy.

Fill a 5-quart stock pot with 4 quarts of water and set the heat to high. When the water boils, add in the chicken pieces and salt and let the broth come to a roiling boil again. Turn the heat down to medium-high so it doesn't boil over and let the stock bubble away for about half an hour.

Then remove the chicken pieces and set aside. Skim the broth until all impurities are removed and the broth is clear.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add 2 cups of jasmine rice. Let the soup cook for about 30 minutes or more, depending on how you like the consistency and thickness of your rice porridge.

When the chicken has cooled down. Discard the skin and bones. Shred the meat and add it back into the pot. You might not need to add all the meat so if you have extra, you can make Goi Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Salad).

Add water or salt if necessary until the chao is the way you like it.

Serve chao ga with Chinese Scallion Cilantro Dipping sauce if you wish.

Give the soup to a sickie. :)

Chao Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Rice Porridge) 3


Other rice porridge recipes:
Chao (Vietnamese Rice Porridge)
Chao/Congee/Jook Thit Heo Bam Hot Vit Bac Thao (Vietnamese/Chinese Rice Porridge with Ground Pork and Preserved Duck Egg) 
Chao Hot Vit Bach Thao (Vietnamese Rice Porridge with Preserved Duck Egg)
Chao Oc (Vietnamese Rice Porridge with Clams)

1 year ago today, On Blogging and Food Blogging.
2 years ago today, Che Bap (Vietnamese Pudding with Corn and Tapioca Pearls in Coconut Milk).


  1. Oooooh, rice porridge. This is comfort food for me when I'm ill or just feeling down. Love it! It's pretty much how I make it too, though sometimes I marinate the chicken and cut it up into chunk, then throw the lot (and the rice and so on) into the rice cooker.

    As to the discussion at hand: For me? Food -is- love. Due to my gluten intolerance, it is an act of love by my friends to actually find -out- where I can eat safely because there are no gluten-free restaurants here, and very little public awareness of what the condition is. To take me out to lunch or dinner or even invite me to their homes to eat, they have to research around, ask me what I can or cannot eat, and go through a lot of extra steps to make sure the food is safe so I won't be ill. Not many people take that sort of effort, and the few who do? It really is a labour of love. For my birthday celebration this year, I had it at the house of a close friend who made it his business to find out exactly what I could or couldn't eat - then made sure nothing he used could cause cross-contamination or make me otherwise ill. I had a wonderful time, I didn't fall sick, and I was touched by just how much effort he and his partner put into making sure I would be ok.

    When I'm cooking for someone, it's a labour of love to feed them because I enjoy watching them eat something good. So yeah, I'm in your camp. Then again, for guys? The emotions and the food can be entirely separate, so it's not surprising he sees it that way. But anyone who doesn't appreciate being cooked for doesn't stay on my list of invited friends for too long anyway. ;)

  2. This hits home for me. The time before last when I went back home to the Philippines, I asked my mom to make me chicken porridge. She asked me to repeat my request. I repeated it and she said no, pick something else cause this is a retarded choice for me to pick. LOL! It's just cause I guess there are lots of other things I could've asked her to make but I just so happened want this one too.

    It taste soo good with some black pepper afterwards. Maybe even white pepper. Mmmm.....

  3. yes, chao is ultimate comfort food when sick. my parents or grandparents would just pile on the black pepper to make me sweat. i would complain but still gobble it all up.

    i agree with you, altho i see your friend's very practical and emotion-less point of view.

  4. Food is definitely love! It's a physical, tangible expression of love. My Granny loves the quote "work is love made visible" and I think it applies to food as well.

    Your friend's point of view just makes me kind of sad. :(

  5. The ultimate breakfast for me too. Everytime I don't feel good I always want chicken rice porridge or bakso (beefball soup) :)

  6. Can you post a link to your sauce, please? I tried to search for it but was unlucky. Thanks!

  7. I agree with you that you can show love with food. I don't think the effort and intention you put in the food can be separated from one another. Food may be a pile of inanimate objects, but when I eat my mother’s chao I feel so warm and nourished inside. The way it tastes and smells reminds me of her and eating anybody else’s chao wouldn’t feel the same. Of course, it all depends on the person who receives the gift of food and whether they feel emotionally connected to it. I understand that for some there's no real connection, but I guess I'm just not one of those people.

  8. i agree with you - food=love. i enjoy making food that i know others will enjoy. just like my mom would make me my fave foods when i was sick (arroz caldo, chicken with bittermelon, scrambled eggs with tomatoes/garlic), i do the same thing for my daughter. i make an extra effort to get the best ingredients when i am cooking/baking something for a dinner party. i enjoy making others happy with my food. i took the time to make it look and taste good and for the most part, most folks really do appreciate it. if i was cooking for someone who didn't appreciate my food, i probably wouldn't be cooking it at all and would be ordering a crappy take out dinner instead.

  9. I definitely agree with you. I wouldn't be taking the time and effort to make something for someone if I didn't want to show that I care about them. I personally do not cook as much as I use to but when I do now it is only because I love/care for that person to do it for them.

  10. Cooking is best that comes from the heart. I'm sure your sister definitely felt the love and care manifested into the rice porridge :]

  11. When someone in my family is sick, I'll make them food even if it's just homemade chicken broth. I do this because I love them. Sometimes that's all you can do to help them or make them feel better so you do it. It's like the story Water for Chocolate. The feelings behind the cooking come through the food even if the person eating it doesn't acknowledge it. The feeling is still there. So when I cook, I always try to be in a good place in my heart/mind. Everything we do is interconnected.

  12. Sorry, but your friend comes off as a jerk. He refuses to understand where you are coming from, choosing to remain stubbornly to his point. You described food as a tangible outcome of love, and I think that is very understandable. It's the same reason that something like a letter, a piece of jewelry, or a photograph can carry sentiment. It can be a physical representation of intangible things, like love, family, tradition, etc. Your friend was overly dismissive just because he seems food as a "pile of inanimate mess." It's so reductive. Just because I don't value the artistry behind a painting doesn't give me the right to dismiss it as a pile of paper and oil. You are not alone in thinking that food is representative of so much more than a means for nourishment. Food not only represents love, but it can also represent family, culture, art, history, etc.

  13. i'm looking around for the "LIKE" button for Sarah's comment.

  14. I'm on the side of food = love and agree with Sarah. I have a dumb question about the Chinese Scallion Cilantro dipping sauce. Do I add it to the chao or do I dip the chicken pieces into it?

  15. Well, that was dumb. If I had just clicked over to the recipe, I'd have seen the answer to my question.

  16. I'm in line with you, Sarah. I find WC's friend's absolute, unqualified conviction eyebrow raising. For some people, food is perhaps indeed never anything more than physical sustenance. But he should at least allow for the possibility that for other people the intent behind the cooking of said food can imbue it with something more. This could be argued for all sorts of human acts. For example, one person could use words to express love, through poetry or other declarations of passion, while someone on an extreme end of the bell curve might find it impossible to express any emotion verbally or in written form.

    But perhaps this is difficult to fathom if one is "the least passionate person on earth" as he claims to be.

  17. I've never questioned if food = love because to me it's always just understood that it is. The way I was raised feeding someone is just a way to show emotion, love/concern/sympathy/joy/celebration, that's what cooking is to me. And maybe because of this unquestioning belief I started getting a bit worked up over your friend's comments. I found myself thinking "what a jerk" and "is he an idiot?". I was taking it WAY too personally, his disbelief was like an attack on me. Isn't that strange? But I guess that food is just one of the many ways to show love and not everyone will see it.

  18. Shuku,
    Sometimes I saute the rice for a bit to get toasty before I add in the liquid. I just wasn't feeling like it that day. A friend who goes through that much trouble to make sure you can eat safely is surely expressing love. Don't worry, I don't cook for people who don't appreciate it. ;)

    Sometimes my mom tries to wow me with new dishes, but she brings out the tried and true since she knows we want those dishes the most.

    Haha. I think you're the only one who can see my friend's point of view. I don't think he's wrong in his beliefs, he does see the worth of the gesture, he just doesn't connect it with the final result.

    I think people who grew up not being fed constantly by grannies and mommies have a hard time connecting love with food. Whereas those of us who have, have an equally difficult time disassociating such gestures of love from the food.

    I prefer pho when I'm sick actually.

    Yup. I just like to keep my recipe posts separate so they're easier for people to find.

    I'm like you. I still can't eat banh nam without thinking of my ba noi and crying. And no one's tastes quite like hers. When I eat it, I miss her so much. So when my aunts make it, I have to eat it when no one's around or I end up bawling.

    Haha. Yeah, I've never cooked for this friend. The effort would be wasted.

    That's why I only cook for my sister or family or close friends.

    My sister always appreciates whatever I make so that's why I'm always cooking for her.

    La Takahashi,
    The despair in the rose petal quails! I actually made that recipe somewhat recently, but burnt the Cornish game hens so I was waiting for dragon fruit season to come again so I could make it again.

    Haha. But couldn't you say the opposite? For too many food bloggers, and the people who read them, we can't disassociate food from love. So it's just as difficult for us to see the other side. Or maybe it's the difference between men and women? I think the larger issue is not to get into a relationship with someone who doesn't see love in the same way you do. So if food to me is love, and the act of cooking for someone is love, then I definitely don't want to be with someone who can't see such gestures as love. The effort would be wasted on both ends.

    Back again? :)

    Scrapper Al,
    Saw you got your answer. :) I prefer dipping myself.

    See my comment to Sarah. :)

    It's not worth getting worked up about. Now everyone will think I threw my friend under the bus when that surely wasn't my intention. Also see my comment to Sarah. :)

  19. Thank you so much for this recipe! It reminds me so much of home during those sick days mum would serve me up a hearty bowl of chao. It's almost medicinal! :D

    My Australian boyfriend is sick and now I'm the one serving him a batch... I wonder what he'll think. :)

  20. Meroro,
    I hope he appreciates the effort you put into making something nourishing for you and that he recognizes the love behind the gesture. :)


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