Also referred to as Chiu Chow, the coastal region of Chaozhou is known for its seafood, said Kevin Lu, a partner with Porridge & Things. Traditional Chiu Chow restaurants are few and far between in the Bay Area, which was part of the reason the owners wanted to bring Porridge & Things to Millbrae. (Lu said he's aware of one in San Francisco and another in Fremont.) The restaurant's chef hails from the Chiu Chow region and returned there for research before opening the 235 Broadway restaurant.
Vietnamese-Chiu Chow restaurants are more common in the Bay Area, he said, a reflection of mass migration from Chiu Chow to Vietnam during the Japanese invasion during World War II, as are fusion restaurants that serve some Chiu Chow dishes.
"There's really no competitor in this line of cuisine," Lu said.
Clam porridge from Porridge & Things in Millbrae. Photo courtesy Porridge & Things.
Porridge & Things is the newest concept from the owners of Noodles & Things, a build-your-own noodle soup shop with locations in San Mateo and Millbrae (just two blocks away from Porridge & Things).
Customers can take their pick from a tank filled with live lobster, crab, shrimp, abalone, geoduck and other fish to be cooked and served with porridge. They then choose their preferred cooking method for the seafood: boiled directly in the porridge, stir fried with scallion and ginger, salt and peppered, steamed or blanched.
"The sweetness of the live seafood," Lu said, "will transcend into the porridge."
The porridge is cooked in a clay pot in a traditional method called "sawo," Lu said. It's cooked and served in the same pot until the rice softens and thickens.
"The difference with Cantonese porridge is that a perfect Cantonese porridge has to be a paste with tiny remnants of rice instead of half a grain, which gives the two distinct textures," Lu said. "In Chinese (cuisine), texture is as important as presentation, (smell) and taste."
For those who haven't tried Chiu Chow food before, he suggested starting with the abalone and chicken porridge, plus the must-order Chinese donuts. Porridge & Things' signature dish, the crab and prawn porridge, is "for the real, bold Chiu Chow palate," he said.
If seafood isn't your thing, there are other options, from the more standard?-?wagyu beef, sweet potato and Chinese donuts?-?to the more adventurous, including frog, pork stomach and preserved 1,000-year-old eggs. Porridge & Things also serves small dishes such as braised goose, scallops in XO sauce, spicy beef tenderloin, stuffed tofu and dumplings.
Or, go big with the chef's choice option: a $1,500, 10-person, 18-course "luxury feast" crafted by the chef that must be ordered a week in advance.
For drinks, Porridge & Things offers a kung fu tea pairing, a traditional Chinese tea ceremony "with very specific protocol," Lu said.
"The tea opens up the palate for the flavor range of Chiu Chow cooking, one of which is 'fo hau,' meaning the heat of the stove (with) which the chef cooks. Each tea variety has it own distinct taste and personality, not unlike wine," he explained.
The owners are working on opening a fourth restaurant in San Francisco?-?an "express" version of Noodles & Things that will be akin to a cafeteria.
Porridge & Things is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.