Rice that’s boiled until it softens to mush, congee is simple to make, but styles and toppings differ from Myanmar to Taiwan and China. Although it’s not hard to find in, say, Flushing, across the city, new Asian-inspired restaurants rarely revisit this traditional breakfast dish. An East Asian general store with bites at the counter, the recently opened Maya Bed-Stuy may not serve the single best congee in the city, but it’s an entirely noteworthy experience, updated with quinoa, avocado and other good additions you see in fashionable grain bowls.
The menu is the result of a sweet collaboration between owner Layla Chen and chef Matthew Tilden, the man behind the beloved SCRATCHbread bakery that specialized in carbs of all varieties, like grits. For us, the whopping 10-plus congee variations are best enjoyed while playing mah-jongg and listening to Caribbean dancehall music.
Sure, we liked the hoisin-chicken sloppy joe ($11) and the spicy hoagie ($13), which is stuffed with smoked Acme whitefish, furikake (a dry Japanese seasoning with dried fish, seaweed and sesame seeds), broccoli, cabbage slaw and kimchi mayo. But back to the congee!
To the unfamiliar Western palette, the black, gelatinous egg on the Porkduckin version ($13) may look spooky or even rotten. But the Chinese century egg—a yolk that’s been preserved in salt, ash and clay over months, not 100 years—is the focal point of this dish that Chen sources from Taiwan: The delicious duck egg supports the shredded pork, kimchi and a dry-pot–style crunchy chili sauce made with Szechuan spices, cumin, star anise and shallots, marinated in sizzling oil. Be warned: The dish is so spicy, you’ll want to cool off with a chrysanthemum-tea juice box ($1).
The Spicy Crunch congee ($11) is the menu’s best item and top seller; it’s an intermingling of avocado, garlic, broccoli, salted peanuts, sweet Indonesian sambal (made with tomatoes and turmeric) and a runny egg. The gooey grains make the dish deliciously decadent. While congee is too often overlooked in New York, it’s making Maya Bed-Stuy a standout.