There are few things more soothing than a hot bowl of congee. Growing up I usually ate it in the form of pei dan sau yuk jook — a silky Cantonese congee peppered with juicy bits of pork and century egg. As an adult I learned that this was just one version among the unlimited variations of congee enjoyed across different east and southeast Asian cuisines, most of them known by different names. The congee diaspora is vast: there’s juk in Korea, cháo in Vietnam, bubur in Indonesia, okayu in Japan, and hsan in Myanmar, each country featuring its own localized ways of cooking, serving, and eating the dish. And at one restaurant in Los Angeles, there’s congee pot pie.
This interpretation of the classic dish is the creation of Yangban Society, a Korean American deli and market in Downtown L.A.’s Arts District helmed by chefs and partners Katianna and John Hong. After leading the kitchens at Meadowood and Charter Oak in Napa Valley’s world of fine dining, Katianna dreamed of the next stage of her career: cooking food that felt personal and meaningful, organically blending Korean and American flavors that reflect her heritage. This dream manifested as Yangban Society, the couple’s first solo restaurant, where the menu draws inspiration from Korean flavors, regional California ingredients, and Katianna’s childhood memories of visiting Jewish and European delis in New York.
While Yangban Society’s menu is anchored with Korean classics like crispy soy garlic wings and kimchi fried rice mixed with succulent slices of pork belly, there’s no shortage of inventive options: fries served with fermented black bean jajang sauce and melted mozzarella; avocado with Asian pear and furikake in a hot mustard vinaigrette; loaded baked potato mandu made with bacon fat, sherry vinegar, and soy. But it’s the congee, served as a pot pie, that unites two very familiar staples to create a new, unexpected comfort food.
Congee is steeped in history — one of its earliest references dates back to 1,000 B.C. Some believe the dish was born out of a need to extend meals for as long as possible since a cup of rice could yield a pot of congee large enough to feed an entire family. Others consider it a healing food that aids in the digestion and absorption of herbal medicine, its warmth supporting spleen and kidney function. Congee is incredibly versatile and can be enjoyed as a simple meal or dressed up as part of a luxurious feast. It’s aptly featured at Yangban Society, where Katianna and John have reinterpreted the term yangban (the aristocratic class that once ruled Korea) to encapsulate the approachability of their restaurant in both atmosphere and price.