Eight Treasures Porridge（八宝粥 ba bao zhou, pronounced like “bah ball djoh”）is a Chinese sweet recipe made from many grains, nuts, beans, and dried fruits. In many regions of China, this dish is served on the Laba Festival（腊八节 la ba jie, “lah bah dzyeh”）and is called Laba Porridge（腊八粥 la ba zhou, “lah bah djoh”）on that day.
So what exactly is the Laba Festival?
The month of La（腊月 la yue, “lah yweh”; literally “La moon” or “La month”）is the 12th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Laba（腊八 la ba, “lah bah”; literally “La eight”）means the eighth day of La. This year, the date corresponds to January 5, 2017.
The festival originated in ancient times as a celebration of the winter harvest, welcoming the upcoming spring and Chinese New Year. It was also combined with a Buddhist holiday commemorating the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment. In China, it is still customary to eat a special porridge to celebrate the Laba Festival.
Note about “porridge” vs “congee”:
In English, “porridge” traditionally meant “oatmeal”, but it can also refer to any similar food made from boiling grains. “Congee” is the usual English word used to refer to Chinese porridge, and the word is derived from an Indian word, kanji/ganji (depending on language): கஞ்சி in Tamil, गांजी in Hindi, and other words in other Indian languages.
I usually prefer to call 粥 as “Chinese porridge” rather than “congee”, since the word congee is itself not Chinese in origin. I think that Indian porridges should be called “congee” instead. Why not call Chinese porridges as “zhou” then? (Well, most English-speakers would pronounce it incorrectly as “zow” instead of “joh”, and even if pronouncing it right, it would then sound too much like the name Joe XD)
I recently bought an Instant Pot, which is a brand of electric pressure cooker that I have wanted for quite a while! It is very easy (and fast!) to use, so I will include instructions for the stovetop version, as well as the Instant Pot version!
Note About Ingredients:
Ingredients can be adjusted (a lot!) based on what you have. Everyone makes this porridge differently! It’s customary to use 8 ingredients total, but you can definitely use more or less (I often include more!). You can omit some ingredients if you don’t have them, or use other grains/beans/fruits that you do have. I added some commonly used examples as suggestions in parentheses as well!
You can adjust amounts of most ingredients to your preference. The recipe is very flexible. I prefer using around a heaping tablespoon of each! You can also adjust water depending on ingredients and amounts. Generally, my family prefers porridge that isn’t too thick (also, Chinese porridge is already much more thin than western porridge), but you can use less water for a thicker porridge! 🙂
1/2 cup sticky (glutinous) rice, or regular white rice – either is fine (besides water, this is the only non-optional ingredient!)
1 heaping tbsp black sticky rice
1 heaping tbsp barley
1 heaping tbsp millet
(can also add: oats, corn meal, other grains, etc. — more grains makes a thicker porridge)
4 Chinese dried red dates (jujubes)
1 heaping tbsp goji berries
(can also add: dried longans, raisins, other dried fruits, etc. — more fruits makes a sweeter porridge)
1 heaping tbsp peanuts
1 heaping tbsp walnut pieces
(can also add: pine nuts, other nuts, etc. — nuts become soft in the porridge, an interesting texture)
1 heaping tbsp mung beans
1 heaping tbsp red (azuki) beans
(can also add: dried lotus seeds, black soybeans, other beans, etc.)
8-10 cups water (for cooking in a regular pot)
Adjust the water amount depending on how thick you want the porridge! If too thick, you can add more water during the cooking process (or afterwards, if using a pressure cooker).
1. Combine everything in a large pot, rinse in cold water (*), and then and soak overnight (in the 10 cups water) or for at least 4 hours. (If you do not soak, you can also cook for a longer cooking time until soft.)
2. After soaking, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat (stirring once every few minutes).
3. Stir, and turn heat to low (to keep a simmer). Cover, but leave a small gap, and cook for around an hour until ingredients are soft to yor taste. Check every 10 minutes to make sure it is not boiling over! Also, stir, and make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. Add more water if it becomes too thick.
4. Once ready, serve hot in bowls. Add sugar to your bowl to taste, if desired.
*Note: If using corn meal or other ingredients that mix into water, do not rinse it! Rinse only the ingredients that need rinsing! Also, if all the ingredients are clean, rinsing should be optional, but more starch will remain on the rice.
For the Instant Pot!
1. Combine everything into the insertion pot, and rinse in cold water (please see the above * note!). There is no need for soaking if you are using an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker.
2. Add water, 7-8 cups should be enough. Less water will evaporate if using an Instant Pot than if cooking on stovetop. If it is too thick, you may mix in more water after cooking. If you’d like a thicker porridge, use less water 🙂
3. Cover the pot (correctly, as in the manual) and select “Porridge”, setting time to 30 minutes.
4. Once it is done, safely release the steam (directions in the manual) and you may uncover the pot. Stir, and add more water if you wish it to be more thin.
5. Serve hot in bowls. Add sugar to your bowl to taste, if desired.
PS. I will be adding a picture once I get one!