Rainy day soup

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When my friend Sam and I first arrived in Vietnam two years ago, we hardly knew what to make of the weather. It had been warm and humid beyond all belief in Thailand and Laos — just strolling around the cities had us sweating through our shirts and guzzling bottles of water — but in Vietnam it was much cooler, and not only in the mountainous regions.


The evenings were so cold, we would request extra blankets, and in the mornings our breath rose in wisps as we sought out street stalls for breakfast. What’s funny is that most travellers prepare for the worst: we carry around first aid kits and antibiotics as though our lives depend on it, but it rarely occurs to us that we might succumb to something as simple as the common cold.

And succumb I did. My cold made me desperate for comfort food, so I began scouring our guidebook for Vietnamese dishes I should be on the lookout for. I came across a dish called cháo, a Vietnamese-style congee (or warm, savoury, rice porridge), which sounded perfect. Great, I thought, I’ll just hit up a few stalls and restaurants to see if anyone’s got this!

Of course, I had forgotten about my total inability to master Vietnamese tonality. (In short, there are six tones for almost every word in Vietnamese, meaning that for each word you speak, you choose its particular meaning based on the tone of your delivery. The tones are generally very difficult for Western speakers to differentiate, and almost impossible to reproduce accurately.) So each time I tried to order cháo, something new (and very definitely not rice porridge) would arrive at the table. One time it was a plate of steamed greens. Another time, a gelatinous dessert.

In the end, I did manage to get my hands on a hearty bowl or two of the good stuff — showing the dish’s name in writing dramatically improved my odds — and the results were as I’d hoped. After a few days of feasting on the hearty, steaming soup, I began to feel better.


We’re looking at a number of drizzly, cool days to come here in Toronto, so I figured I’d whip up the perfect soup for the weather. It’s my own totally inauthentic adaptation of cháo, a rich, thick porridge of rice and chicken and greens. It’s the absolute perfect antidote for the rain, and a great way to use up leftover chicken or rice that’s been hanging out in the fridge for a few days.

Most importantly, since early fall gives way to late fall, and eventually winter, I’m always on the hunt for some warm-you-up recipes. Any suggestions, dear readers?


Rainy day soup recipe

Serves 4.


Do ahead:

  • 4 cups cooked rice
  • roughly 1 cup shredded, cooked chicken


  • 2 shallots or 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbs fish sauce
  • 8-10 heads of baby bok choi, washed and roughly chopped


1. In a large pot on high heat, warm the olive oil. When the oil is hot, reduce heat to medium and add the shallot/onion. Stir frequently for about 5 minutes, or until softened.

2. Add the chicken broth and the water. Carefully add the shredded, cooked chicken and the cooked rice. Stir together.

3. Add the salt, fish sauce, and baby bok choi. Stir together.

4. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Sample the soup and adjust seasonings to taste.

5. Serve piping hot & you’ll feel warmed up in no time.

Stay dry out there, kids.



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One Response to “Rainy day soup”

  1. Elsa November 5, 2013 at 10:18 AM #

    sounds just like what i need — recuperating from shoulder surgery…I even have a rice cooker for the first ingredient–unless one has to be a purist…..I’ll ask Percy to chop up the bok choy! Thanks. Elsa