Every day, it’s on our table. Every meal. My mother-in-law swears by it. I have come to accept its glutinous, tasteless presence as simply “part of the family.” Xiaomi zhou 小米粥 is the cure-all, I’m told. It’s the essential food at any meal: millet porridge.

Also known by the Cantonese congee, zhou 粥 is a very common feature in Chinese families, but I have come to realize it’s particularly sacred to my Shandong relatives (by marriage). In Shandong, they also refer to zhou as xifan 稀饭, which, for years, I mistakenly interpreted as "suck meal" or "food you suck in," as in the character for sucking in air with the same sound and tone: 吸. Why is this, you wonder? Just imagine the sound everyone in this extended family makes while eating it and you have my logic. (Incidentally, the correct character 稀 actually, and appropriately, means weak or watery.)

I admit that I wasn’t a fan when it first started being thrust at me back in the days when I was still the "foreign girlfriend" and not yet the wife and mother. Not only did I find it tasteless, I found the texture strangely unclassifiable, like slightly small tapioca without the stickiness or watery cream of wheat porridge with no milkiness.

As time's gone on, however, I have come to appreciate it. It’s a palette cleanser for a cuisine that is often salty. So, especially in the morning, it gets a warm welcome in my stomach.

And the kids are addicted to it. On days when they don’t want to eat anything green or otherwise nutritionally ideal, I know I can still get them to “drink” a bowl of millet porridge because it is part of their routine. And they have no idea how good for them it actually is. For this, I’m extremely grateful.

What’s more, it’s one of the things I am an expert at making in the kitchen, much to my mother-in-law’s prejudiced surprise. It’s amazing how impressive boiling the exact amount of water and grains together can be when you're from another part of the world. Magic!

This article originally appeared on our sister site beijingkids.

Photos: Ember Swift

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