Congee is for when you’re sick. Congee is for when you’re cold. Congee is for when you need to immerse yourself in the warm womblike comfort of a steamy bowl of rice porridge. Or if you’re Margaret Pak of Thattu or Jaye Fong of Maa Maa Dei, congee is for anytime.
Pak eats Keralan congee, or kanji, year-round when she visits her mother-in-law in Kozhikode (aka Calicut), its smooth, silky blandness a blank canvas for spicy shrimp and crunchy pappadum. Fong grew up eating soy-pickled cucumbers with Sunday congee lunch growing up in Bloomington. This ubiquitous and soothing rice porridge (aka juk, aka jok, aka zhou, aka chao, aka kayu, aka buber ayam, aka lugaw) is pretty darn universal across Asia, so it makes perfect sense that these two chefs would join their powers to create a Keralan-Cantonese synthesis for the next Monday Night Foodball, the Reader’s weekly chef pop-up series at Irving Park’s Kedzie Inn.
That’s one dish for dine-in only this time, but it’s quite a set; a textural, flavorful firefight, accompanied by a choice of Pak’s Keralan shrimp or snake gourd thoran, lime pickle, and pappadum, along with Fong’s cucumbers and pickled mustard greens. Just imagine your cares melting away in the wholesome lavalike flow ($16).
And that’s not all. For carryout: Pak is offering chicken ishtu, a coconut-based Keralan stew with root vegetables, served with appam or ghee rice ($11). And Fong wants to send you home with another congee, this with swai fish, sharp with ginger, and fueled by her own chili crisp ($8). Together they’re offering a cookie combo: Pak’s masala biscuit (the one that started it all) and Fong’s black tea lemon cookie, meant to evoke Hong Kong’s ubiquitous café cha ($4). Behind the bar Jon Pokorny will be cracking cans of Indian-inspired beer from local Azadi Brewing Company this Monday, February 28 beginning at 5 PM.
This one is preorder only, friends—no walk-ins—and you should order right now. But if you somehow miss out, Pak promises a resumption in pop-up activity in the months ahead between catering gigs and opening her brick-and-mortar; and Foodball veteran Fong will be adhering to her prodigious schedule as well, collaborating with Hugo Tea and Vida Mia Cocktails on March 5, and prepping for another Sakura season pastry menu.
And you know what else? You’ll always have Monday Night Foodball. See the current schedule below and expect announcements for May dates soon.
- March 14: Joey Pham, aka @flavorsupreme, and Kelly Ijichi of Mom’s Chicago present “MSG (Monday Snack Gathering).”
- March 21: Lorraine Nguyen, aka @lolo_agogo, and Joey Pham, aka @flavorsupreme, present “SUPRANOS: a Vietalian Experience.”
- April 11: A second act from Oskar Singer (aka @ryehumorbaking)
- April 18: Ricky Hanft of The Wurst
- April 25: Roel Estanilla of @pigandfire