Sunday, March 15, 2009

So Congee

I have a problem with So Congee. So Congee is a quite nice restaurant with a quite nice atmosphere and quite nice food, for a pretty decent price. I went with a friend who afterwards half-jokingly claimed she wanted to eat there every day. While I also like the place, really two things hold me back from giving raves. First is that congee is just, well, congee. Very simple, I've never made it myself but I imagine you just add some water to a bowl of rice, then boil it for a long time. It's great when you want something basic, in the US I'd get it with a few vegetables or meat for maybe two fifty. In China a plain version costs two or three kuai, somewhere between a quarter and fifty cents. Generally if people have it they'll have it for breakfast, which I tend to skip.

But really my main problem with the restaurant is that, my God, it's so slow. I find myself waiting half an hour or more, for food that I think of as being so elementary. I can get crazy impatient and actually asked if I could get a long-wait-discount, last time I went. It didn't work, but I didn't expect it to. Anyway, as long as I'm prepared to wait (something I have a hard time with), the atmosphere at So Congee is comfortable, and it's a good place to relax. The furniture is nothing amazing, but it's attractively lit, it's none to loud, the tables aren't stacked right against each other, and there's usually a cool soundtrack playing in the background – last time I went, it was early Billy Holiday.

The restaurant is kind of split in half, there's also a sister restaurant So Hot Pot, confusingly enough it operates in the exact same space even though they make it out to be two different restaurants. Most of the customers seem to be there for the hot pot. I've never tried that, I'm not a huge hot pot fan, and while I'm sure their rendition is decent, the place seems a little restrained atmosphere for what's usually a meal eaten with friends and a few bottles of beer. There's also a menu of Shanghai foods, snacks, and desserts. I usually order a snack or vegetable alongside my congee, they're generally fine but nothing amazing.

The congee is given in a large bowl with a large serving spoon, there's a base price of eight kuai per person, although I could see getting an extra portion if people are hungry. Other ingredients are mixed in, there's a whole lot of different types of mushrooms and seafood to choose from, along with some other meats and vegetables. Prices are maybe fifteen to thirty kuai, depending what's added in, but it varies. These ingredients are always very high-quality. The base congee is bland, as is to be expected, but is about as nice as congee can get. This congee had needle mushrooms and eel added:

So really it's very good food, and for only sixty nine kuai I felt like I had a nice meal for two at a nice restaurant. So despite my misgivings about the concept of an upscale congee restaurant, I recommend giving this place a try.

The menu is entirely translated into English, and there's numerous pictures, additionally I imagine some of the waiters speak English. It's located a little North of Jing'an Temple, on 98 Yanping Road, near Xinzha Road. I don't think reservations should be necessary, but it might be a good idea during peak times – the phone number is (21)6267-1781.

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