What is rice congee, you ask? Also known as Shi Fan (water rice), in mandarin, rice congee is a porridge that is typically eaten in the morning but can be taken throughout the day in replacement to other meals. It is especially useful to prepare for babies starting solids, the elderly, those recovering from a brief illness, delivery or surgery, and/or those with a long-term illness or weak constitution.
Rice congee also has a practical relevance for all of us. It is of particular importance for those that wish to focus on proper eating for overall health and longevity, using a Qing Dan diet. Qing refers to clear, pure, light. Dan refers to those foods which are considered more bland and have less flavor.
Examples of a Qing Dan diet include, grains, legumes (beans and bean products), vegetables and fruits. Animal protein, fats, and oil such as meat, eggs, milk and fish are kept to a minimum (e.g. if eaten, they are taken in small quantities and not eaten every day as they tend to produce “heaviness and dampness” in the body long-term, which in turn can lead to unhealthy accumulations and growths in the body if not properly cleared). A Dan diet also uses much less spicy, flavorful and fermented foods, such as soy sauce, vinegar, salt and alcohol as these also produce heavier ‘turbid’ fluids and substance in the body which can cause or aggravate ‘dampness and heat’ conditions (e.g. skin rashes/mouth or throat irritations, nasal congestion, heat in any of the orifices, including urinary tract infections or IBS, and/or diarrhea symptoms, and more).
Interestingly, the Qing Dan diet corresponds quite well with the “Eating Right Pyramid” in the United States (e.g. a healthy diet consisting of whole grains and complex carbohydrates at the bottom of the pyramid, followed by a smaller portion of vegetables and fruits above this, then an even smaller amount of animal protein and dairy products, and finally reserving the top part of the pyramid for very small amounts of sweeets, salts, fats, and oils). The Qing Dan diet is essentially the same as the Pritikin Diet http://www.webmd.com/diet/pritikin-principle-what-it-is and the Macrobiotic Diet http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/macrobiotic-diet.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, rice congee is used in dietary therapy since it not only boosts energy, but is easily digested (as it is prepared in the form of soup and therefore warmed to at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Since the water to rice ratio is typically at least 6:1 in preparing congee, the rice porridge helps to moisten fluids in the digestive system’s stomach and intestines which can deplete due to old age or chronic illness. Since it is water-based, it can replenish these fluids without producing further “dampness or phlegm” accumulations in the digestive tract.
Many quotes by famous doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine and even the Buddha, have been documented attributing excellent health to the consumption of rice congee. I leave you with one as food for thought:
“[Shi Fan] confers 10 things on those who eat it: life and beauty, ease and strength. It dispels hunger, thirst, and wind. It cleanses the bladder. It digests food. This food is praised by the Well-farer.” – Shakyamuni Buddha, Makavagga. Winanaya Pitaka (Book o the Discipline) trans. by I.B. Harner, London, 1951, Vol. IV, p. 302
(Flaws, Bob. The Book of Jook: A Healthy Alternative to a Typical Western Breakfast, Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, CO, 1995)