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Gum Kuo Restaurant, Oakland Congee

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Gum Kuo restaurant, in Oakland, California’s Chinatown, is a great place to go for congee (rice porridge) – johk (or jook or, sometimes, juk). It’s the restaurant where we go for breakfast whenever we make a visit to the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market. We’ll visit there on other occasions as well.

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo is found at 388 9th St. (between Webster St. & Franklin St.) in Oakland, California. Their phone number is (510) 268-1288. It’s located in the Asian Cultural center and is found in the entryway to the center’s courtyard right off of Franklin Street. There’s a parking garage directly adjacent to the center, which is good, given how difficult it can be to find street parking in Chinatown.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Gum Kuo Window

Gum Kuo front window

Front Counter

Gum Kuo counter

When you walk pas the restaurant, you’ll see familiar Chinatown sight – browned, succulent-looking roast ducks and a half-torso of crispy, roasted pork hanging in the window; there’s also Chinese barbecue pork (cha siu), stewed chickens and stewed ducks. The trays below the hanging food contain various other dishes such as grilled octopus and various innards, for instance intestines and stomach.

Bowl of Congee

Bowl of Congee

More Congee

More Congee

Although there is a quite extensive menu of Chinese food, we tend to come mainly for the congee (and the roast duck – see below). Congee is simply rice porridge to which a food of your choice has been added. It typically includes fresh ginger slivers and green onions. You can add soy sauce and chilli oil as desired. Gum Kuo offers a wide variety of options, listed under the menu category “Porridge.” Kasma nearly always gets the same thing: congee with pork liver, preserved egg and fish. She’ll occasionally get the pork kidney instead of the liver. The congee is served in a rather large bowl; for the two of us, we ask for two smaller bowls into which we serve the congee. Rest easy, you don’t need to have innards in your congee: you can get plain chicken, or pork, or beef or fish, if you prefer.

Roast Duck

Roast Duck

The other item that we almost always order is the roast duck. It’s on the menu under “Barbecue.”The roast duck here is excellent: crispy, tasty skin over moist and delicious meat. You can order just a plate of duck, but for a little extra you get an entire half-duck; if there’s any left, take it home for a snack or meal later.

I’ll sometimes substitute a plate of roast pork for the duck. Chinese roast pork as served here has a crispy outer skin. There’s usually three layers to a piece: the crispy outer skin, a layer of fat and a layer of muscle meat. It is very tasty.

Gum Kuo Menu

Gum Kuo (partial) menu

In addition to the restaurant, Gum Kuo offers many items which can be taken home. Click on the picture to the right to read the sign more easily. Roasted and steamed duck, steamed and salted chicken (they even offer a free-range option), and various spiced pig parts such as Spiced Pig Ears, Spiced Pig Tongue, Spiced Pic Stomach and Spiced Pig Intestines. Of course, these items can be ordered as a restaurant dish as well.

They also offer a more standard American breakfast – omelet or eggs with toast, that sort of thing. I’ve never been tempted though: the congee and the roast duck or pork are the reason why I come here.

Next time you are in Oakland’s Chinatown, give Gum Kuo a try.

Written by Michael Babcock, February 2012

Street Food Congee (Jook, or Johk)

Michael Babcock, Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Jook (really pronounced johk) is what the Thai people call congee: we’ll use that term interchangeably with congee and rice porridge. It can also be called khao tom, which literally means “boiled rice.” In general, jook is always made by boiling the rice grains in water from the start; khao tom is sometimes made by adding already cooked rice to boiling water and it can tend to be a bit lighter.

Nearly every neighborhood will have some place where you can get rice porridge, at least in the mornings and often, also, in the evening. As you walk down Sukhumvit Soi 105, which is known as Soi LaSalle (pronounced “La-Sahn“), as you approach Soi 10 . . .

Street Stall, Soi LaSalle

Street Stall Soi LaSalle

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

. . . you’ll pass a row of street food stalls under a roof. On the end you’ll notice a fairly typical-looking Thai street food stall.

Street Stall, Soi LaSalle

Street Stall Soi LaSalle

The  shop  sells rice porridge, known in China as congee and in Thai as jook. If it’s morning-time or evening time, the shop is likely open; jook is eaten mainly as a breakfast food or, alternatively, in the evenings. Kasma says that it is considered a good cure for a hangover so after late night drinking, a jook shop is a popular destination. It is made with delicious, healing bone broths and this helps to account for it’s efficacy in helping ease the pain of too much booze. Kasma’s family owns a condominium in La Salle Park, right at Soi 10. We had noticed that the two tables here were often full and we also saw people lining up to get jook to go (more later). One morning we decided to give it a try. The proprietor, the paw krua (male cook, literally “father of the kitchen”), Noo (pronounced in Thai with a high tone), already recognized us from our many excursions out to graze the different food stalls on the street.

Assembling the Jook

Each bowl of jook is assembled to order. The first step is to move the boiled rice into a dish, as you see here:

Making Jook, Step 1

Assembling Rice Porridge, Step 1

This is really step 2 because the rice mixture he’s putting in the bowl has already been diluted. He’s previously boiled up a large pot of rice and water (the large pot to the left, above), which is very, very thick, and has cooled. He’s taken some of that mixture, diluted it with pork broth, and then heated it up on a burner at the front of the stall:

Heating Rice Porridge

Heating Boiled Rice for Congee

Now it’s time for the rest of the ingredients.

Jook Ingredients

Congee Ingredients

Here you see the view from the front of the stall. At the top are raw chicken eggs to the left and duck eggs (the pink are salted) to the right. The ingredients on the lower shelf, from the middle back and clockwise, are ground pork mini-meatballs, pork liver, shredded ginger, sauted mushrooms and chopped green onions. One other ingredient, fried wonton skin, is not visible. The sauted mushrooms are an ingredient I’ve not seen in jook before. It makes the bowl very tasty.

Adding Ingredients to Jook

Adding Ingredients

Noo quickly adds them all to the Bowl. Egg, by the way, is optional when you get jook. Depending on the shop, the egg will either be raw or partially boiled. The boiled rice mixture is fairly hot, so the idea is that the egg will cook further after it’s been added to the bowl. The eggs at this shop were partially soft-boiled, though the white was not yet cooked all the way through. So here’s the bowl as Noo served it. The yellow bits are deep-fried, crisp won-ton skin; they give a a crunchy texture to the bowl of jook.

Jook, Ready to Eat

Rice Porridge, Ready to Eat

Once a bowl is served, you have the option of balancing the flavors to fit your own tastes.

Condiments for Jook

Condiments for Jook

The glass jars above contain, from (our) left to right: ground, dried chillies; sugar; chillies in vinegar; fish sauce. They can be used to make the jook spicier (hotter), sweeter, more sour or saltier, to the diner’s personal preference. Sugar can also be used to balance and bring out the flavors. These 4 condiments (or slight variations) are also served with noodle dishes – Thai people learn from a fairly early age how to balance and harmonize flavors, a skill that we westerners mostly have to learn later. (See Kasma’s article Creating Harmonies with Primary Flavors.) Then you mix up the bowl as below and dig in! The slightly yellow cast comes from the mixed in egg yolk.

Jook, Ready to Eat

Jook Ready to Eat

Jook To Go

Jook, like all other street foods, is also sold “to go.”

Buying Jook To Go

Buying Jook To Go

Assembly is much the same, except that the ingredients are mixed in a metal cylinder that will be used to pour the (steaming hot) mixture into a plastic bag, the container of choice for to go food.

Assembling rice porridge to go

Assembling Rice Porridge To Go

Various other ingredients are placed in a separate plastic bag so that they won’t go soggy. Here’s the complete package that we took home for Kasma’s sister. There’s at least 5 plastic bags here – Thailand uses a lot of plastic bags!

Jook To Go

Jook To Go

So if you’re ever happen by Soi Lasalle Soi 10 in the early morning, I highly recommend Noo’s Jook. It’s flavorful and delicious, with the mushrooms adding a wonderful flavor not usually found in rice porridge. You’ll get a nice smile from Noo as well!

Noo, Maker of Jook

Noo, Maker of Jook

You might also enjoy Kasma’s article Enjoy Congee (Rice Porridge) and can also try her recipe for Rice Congee with Pork (Kao Dtom Moo).

I’m guessing as of this time (May, 2020) this stand is no longer found.

Written by Michael Babcock, April 2009. Updated May 2020.