Eggs-ellent Japanese Dishes and Eggs-actly Where You Should Try Them in Tokyo
I love eggs, and what's not to love about them? They're probably the most versatile protein you can buy. Fry 'em up. Boil 'em. Poach 'em. Use them for baking. Use them as a topping. Mix them with other proteins. The list goes on and on and on. It's no wonder that almost every cuisine in the world uses eggs in one way or another, and Japan is no different.
Eggs are used in a multitude of traditional and modern dishes, each of which have found their place in the hearts (and tummies) of the Japanese and visitors alike. In this article, I want to introduce you to my hands down favorite Japanese egg dishes while giving you some places where you can try them.
So without further ado, your quick guide to Japan's most eggs-ellent dishes...
Dashimaki Tamago / Tamagoyaki
Tamagoyaki is kind of an umbrella term meant to capture several different styles of Japanese "omelette." The first I'll describe is the aptly named Dashimaki Tamago ("Egg rolled with Fish Broth"), this is the most traditional egg-based dish in Japanese cuisine. In some ways, it resembles the way a standard western omelet is made, but the addition of dashi stock (and sometimes green onions) to the beaten eggs, gives the final product a sweet and savory finish. The dish gets its name because it is made by pouring the entire beaten egg and dashi onto a long rectangular frying pan, and as it cooks, it is rolled; hence, dashi (fish broth)-maki (rolled) tamago (egg). As I mentioned, Dashimaki Tamago is just one variant. The more difficult (and harder to find) version of Tamagoyaki does not roll egg, but rather flips it in order to create a fluffier, almost cake-like consistency. Curious to see how difficult it is? Check out the YouTube video below, which is a clip from the popular "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."
If you've got the time to get a reservation at Jiro's Sushi shop, I say go for it, but if you don't have 30,000 yen to spend on a single meal and don't have six months to wait, there are lots of restaurants that offer dashimaki tamago. Still, I suggest visiting a place that specializes in it. You can find one of Tokyo's best right at Tsukiji Market. Shoro offers a variety of dashimaki tamago at reasonable prices.
Oyakodon / Katsudon
Japan loves donburi, or dishes served over rice in a bowl. There are countless types of donburi, but the two most common options are Oyakodon and Katsudon. Katsudon takes everyone's favorite breaded pork or chicken cutlets and puts it over rice with eggs, onion, and sauce. The Oyakodon is the appropriately--yet tragically--named dish which combines parent and child, or in this case, chicken and eggs (that is the literal translation, even though it can be a little off-putting). In both cases, the egg serves to pull all of the ingredients together while enhancing the overall flavor of the dish.
Where to get it:
Since Oyakodon and Katsudon are so common in Japan, you can really find it in just about any traditional Japanese-style restaurant. Still, if you're in Tokyo and want to go to a place that specializes in katsudon, you have to visit Katsudon-Ya Zuicho in Shibuya. There, you can get Tokyo's best Katsudon (food pictured above).
"The stuff you like, fried." That's what "Okonomiyaki" means, and this dish became popular in an era when it was more economical to mix-and-match and combine ingredients. Emerging in popularity in the postwar era, okonomiyaki take a egg and flour-based mix and adds things like cabbage, pork, seafood, and whatever else you can think of. This is where things get interesting, however, since there are two styles of okonomiyaki: Osaka-style, which combines all of the ingredients into a single pancake-like product; and Hiroshima-style, which cooks each ingredient separately (including noodles) and layers them. It's a big debate over which one is the "True" okonomiyaki, but at the end of the day, it just comes down to personal preference!
Where to get it:
Hiroshima is famous for its "Momiji" or Maple trees, so it's no surprise that "Momiji-ya" happens to specialize in Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Located in Iidabashi (a great, albeit less traveled borough of Tokyo), Momiji-ya gives you a variety of Okonomiyaki options in a cozy setting best suited for enjoying this kind of food. There are only a few tables, and most of the customers sit at a counter where the chef cooks up your okonomiyaki right in front of you (the way it should be done!).
Tamago Kake Gohan
If I just told you what this dish was, it really probably wouldn’t seem all that interesting because of its simplicity. Still, it was an important staple in Japan, and I learned that from my grandparents.
When I was a kid, I used to stay at my grandparents' house during the summers. It was during that time that I usually had my first forays into unique Japanese cuisine, thanks to my Japanese grandmother who loved to cook for us. One morning, however, my American Grandfather, knowing I loved rice, said, "Hey, why don't you try something different. I used to eat this all the time when we lived in Yokohama. Hey Other Mommy [he always called my grandma that since she wasn't our mom, but the "Other Mommy"], get Mikey rice and egg for breakfast!"
I wondered what it could have been. You see, my grandfather was an enlisted American soldier who had met and fallen in love with my Japanese grandmother during the Allied Occupation after World War II. He had been estranged from his own family in New York before the war, but he found a new family in a modest home in Yokohama. Little by little throughout my childhood, I learned more about what life was like for them back then, and here was another window into that experience.
What "Other Mommy" came out with was rice, an egg (still in its shell), and a little bowl with soy sauce in it.
"I didn't know we had hard boiled egg," I said to my grandpa.
"It's not." He replied. "It's raw." I guess he saw the look on my face, because he reassured me: "Just do what I tell you. You'll like it." He then explained that I needed to beat the egg with the soy sauce before pouring it over the piping hot rice.
With some reservation, I gave it a shot, and I loved it. I've been eating it regularly ever since.
I later learned that Tamago Kake Gohan was a cheap way for relatively impoverished families after the way to add protein to their diets. Although it's not that common to find the simple rice/soy sauce/raw egg combo in Japanese restaurants or shops these days, it is easy to find places that will give you a raw egg to use as a topping on top of your other rice-based meals (for example, it is the industry standard topping option for places like Yoshinoya and Suki-ya).
Where to Try it: Your Hotel/Hostel Breakfast Buffet. I'm under no illusions: most of you readers out there are probably going to hate this dish, which is why I recommend that you don't pay for it. Instead, look no further than your hotel or hostel buffet line. A Japanese Breakfast Buffet will always offer three things: rice, eggs, and soy sauce. Of course, they won't necessarily be all together, but it's as simple as filling up at the rice station, grabbing a little bowl of soy sauce (or a packet, if they are being served in plastic packs), and visiting the egg station. Sometimes there will be a stack of eggs sitting on ice, but if there is an omelet station, you may just have to ask the chef for a "nama-tamago" and he or she will give you one. From there, all you have to do is crack the egg into a little bowl (separate from the rice). Add the soy sauce. Mix it up until the yolk is well beaten. Pour it over your rice, and BAM! Tamago Kake Gohan all ready for you!
The aforementioned options are by no means an exhaustive list--just my personal recommendations. Here are some other great egg-based dishes to try:
Om-rice: An omelet filled with seasoned/flavored rice and topped with ketchup.
Sukiyaki: A hot-pot based dish where you boil various ingredients including meat, noodles, and vegetables. You dip the hot ingredients into cold raw egg to cool them off and add a bit of flavor before eating.
Ramen: Most Ramen shops won't consider the bowl of noodles complete without a hard boiled egg or two topping it.
Purin: For those who have a sweet tooth, this traditional Japanese egg custard is a favorite. You can find it in any supermarket or convenience store.
So there you have it...
...Japan's best egg-based dishes and where to find them. If you're not a lacto-ovo vegetarian and you have even the slightest bit of liking for eggs, I say zehi, go find yourself one of these dishes and prepare for a fantastic meal!
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