Here’s a thought—Porridge should be an indulgence. Utter its name and more often than not, dull bowls of plainly simmered white rice come to mind. Well, my time at Happy Congee seeks to correct that very notion. Begone, stigmas of ‘sick people food’ and bland-tasting porridge, there’s a new sheriff in town.
Three-year-old Arc 380 stands in the heart of Jalan Besar, down the road from institutions like Berseh Food Centre and Swee Choon. Within the building is newly minted Happy Congee at Bgain, a modern food court concept putting forth a flurry of dining options for office folks looking to grab a quick lunch or a meal after hours. It’s not your typical coffee shop fraught with rickety ceiling fans and wobbly tables. This one’s a little cleaner, a little newer, and the food a little more pricey.
Offerings here aren’t too complicated. There are six types of congee and a healthy assortment of chee cheong fun (rice noodle rolls). Don’t come here for low-carb fare, because you won’t find any. Instead, what you get are steaming hot bowls of Cantonese congee bursting with ingredients and fried dough sticks to playfully dunk into your porridge.
What I tried
Happy Congee’s chefs slam on pots of bubbling raw ingredients and slushy white rice onto gas-fired stovetops behind the counter. Wooden spatulas rapidly circle and stir their contents, churning out fully-flavoured servings of smooth, velvety porridge.
On the other side of the kitchen, a steel countertop spread end-to-end with translucent rice noodle sheets. Seasoned hands helm this station through bouts of expert slicing and folding. It’s culinary origami, and I’m lucky to bear witness.
All that spectacle almost distracts me from the Hong Kong Boat Congee (S$6). Beneath goopy layers of congee, there are slices of toman fish (snakehead) and strips of dried cuttlefish—hence its boat moniker. Give the bowl a good stir or two to mix. I’m instantly excited by the clean, savoury notes of fresh seafood that grapple my senses in a barrage of flavour.
Textures are aplenty here, with crunchy roasted peanuts and umami-laden dried scallop alongside firm fish slices. Am I imagining myself transported on to a wooden boat out at sea, digging into an oceanic affair of the day’s catch? Perhaps, but I doubt that this level of cooking can be achieved on a floating wooden sampan.
It’s exceedingly difficult to peruse Happy Congee’s menu and not notice the Black Iberian Pork Congee (S$5). One can’t help but wonder what business Iberico pork has on this stall’s porridge menu, three years after its 2018 craze. I add on a freshly cracked egg (S$0.80) for a touch of creaminess, though, admittedly, I also like the fun splash of colour along with it. This one’s silkier than the bowl before, boasting a buttery mouthfeel that coats my mouth quite salaciously—and scandalously. It’s an intensely indulgent porridge that makes me very happy.
Let’s not ignore the elephant, or in this case, the Black Iberian Pig in the room. The pork proves tender, meaty, and aptly seasoned, but I’ll chalk it down to competent cooking rather than supposedly premium ingredients. Beautifully smooth congee here only lets the meat shine more brightly in texture and flavour. I’d call upon this perfectly serviceable bowl of congee in the near future for some much-needed soul-warming.
Not long after my double-bowled porridge escapade comes a serving of Rice Noodle Roll with Dough Sticks (S$4), or Zhaliang. Here, thinly rolled rice noodle sheets encase youtiao (fried dough sticks) in a creation that blatantly shuns the keto crowd. These come soaked in a soy-based sauce and sliced before serving.
As full as I am, my chopsticks still readily succumb to their allure. Happy Congee’s dough sticks come masterfully executed with crisp outer shells and soft, buttery insides. With all the carb-fuelled guilt it entails also comes an utterly delicious plate of food. I guess you win some and lose some.
A better display of the chee cheong fun lies in the Triple Sauce Rice Noodle Roll (S$3.50). This one’s a saucy treat for the eyes and mouth alike. Artful splashes of sauce atop rolled rice noodle sheets make for arguably one of the most visually enticing iterations of this dish I’ve come across.
There’s creamy peanut sauce, chilli, and a sweet-salty soy mix to blast the plain rice noodle sheets to ungodly levels of flavour. Happy Congee’s rice sheets prove thin enough not to cloy—a feat only achieved with extremely learned hands in the kitchen. It suffices to say that my table now is blessed with a quartet of heavy-going plates, and I’m not complaining.
Porridge hardly makes it on to my list of guilty pleasures and cheat meals. Yet, my experience at Happy Congee tells a different story. I wouldn’t look to this for a healthy, easy-going option, because that’s simply not what it is. Intensely rich congee and heady pairings of chee cheong fun make any meal here a truly decadent one. I leave the stall’s premises with an excessively satiated appetite, one happy tummy, and a long food coma brewing. For now, that long-overdue article would have to wait.
Expected Damage S$5 – S$8 per pax
Our Rating: 4 / 5
380 Jln Besar, ARC 380, Singapore 209000
380 Jln Besar, ARC 380, Singapore 209000