Why Tourists Are Smitten with Japan’s Popular Egg Cuisine

Why Tourists Are Smitten with Japan’s Popular Egg Cuisine

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Egg cuisine culture in Japan
Pictures: Fast&Slow; hafuphoto / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Forget sushi and ramen. More than ever, tourists to Japan are discovering the delectability of the country's egg-based dishes. Here's what to eat - and where to go - on your next trip.

When most people think “Japanese food,” they probably think of sushi or ramen. But as we’ve discussed before, there’s so much more to Japanese cuisine. And lately, says one TV station, tourists increasingly have their eyes on the country’s vast number of variations on the incredible, edible egg.

Raw egg on rice, anyone?

Kisaburo, an egg specialty restaurant in Tokyo. (Picture: Kisaburo’s Web site)

Recently, TBS News Dig in Japan ran a piece delving into the popularity of egg dishes among tourists. As I’ve written before, such fawning pieces are a dime a dozen – and, sometimes, come off as staged.

But as a staunch lover of omuraisu and oyakodon, the popularity of eggs in Japan is a subject near and dear to my heart. Additionally, TBS started their tour at a favorite haunt of Unseen Japan’s: Kisaburo, the egg specialty restaurant in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward.

There, curious tourists tasted – many for the first time – a dish they could’ve easily made at home but probably never thought to because of cultural stigma: tamago-kake-gohan (卵かけご飯), or “TKG” for short.

White yoked eggs (okometamago)
The white-yolked okometamago (rice egg). (Picture: TBS News Dig)

As its name in Japanese implies, TKG is a simple dish consisting of a raw egg and soy sauce on top of a bed of hot rice. It’s one of several dishes served in Japan with raw egg. As a US citizen, I was taught my entire life never to consume eggs raw. In Japan, by contrast, strict regulations around egg safety mean people in Japan can enjoy TKG without the salmonella.

A short history of TKG (and the egg) in Japan

While eggs have been in Japan since 100AD, Buddhist restrictions on eating animals meant they weren’t often consumed until the Edo era, when they were used medicinally. Towards the end of Edo, a dish close to TKG appeared in at least one written record.

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It wasn’t until the Meiji era, thanks to journalist Kishida Ginko, that TKG gained popular attention. However, its consumption exploded in the Taisho era, when Japan established its first egg farms. Due to advances in egg production technology imported from America, egg consumption grew during the post-WWII Showa era to 250 eggs per person per year.

At Kisaburo, customers can pay 1,200 yen (USD $8.24) for a teishoku (定食; set lunch) that includes rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables, and all of the eggs that they can eat. The restaurant offers seven varieties of carefully selected eggs, including an intriguing white yolk egg created by putting chickens on a rice diet.

You should definitely check out Kisaburo if you can make it over there. But even if you can’t, you can get raw eggs to make TKG at many Japanese restaurants, including gyudon (beef bowl) shops such as Sukiya and Yoshinoya.

Omuraisu reigns supreme

Omuraisu ("omelette rice")
Picture: Koarakko / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Along with sushi, omelet rice – or omuraisu – is now recognized as a quintessentially Japanese dish. Which is amusing, given that it falls under the general category of “Western” food in popular perception.

Several stores in Japan claim to have originated the dish sometime in the early 1900s. Originally just an omelet layered over plain rice, the store Hokkyokusei (北極星) in Osaka created its modern incarnation, in which you mix ketchup and other ingredients into the rice before laying the omelet on.

Omuraisu is a staple of kissa, retro-style restaurants serving drinks and a limited food menu. You can also hunt up one of the many omuraisu specialty shops in Tokyo. One of my favorites is Mitsuboshi Shokudo in Meguro, where you can get variations such as a delicious curry omuraisu.

TBS News Dig interviewed visitors to Kissa you in Ginza, where the line went out the door. (This is a typical phenomenon with popular kissa. Don’t go to a kissa hungry because chances are you’ll be gnawing your arm off by the time you get in.) Kissa you creates a fluffy omelet by first adding cream to the eggs and then cooking them in a heaping helping of margarine.

Kissa you creating its speciality omuraisu
Picture: TBS News Dig

Tamagoyaki is in the house

Tamagoyaki
Picture: shige hattori / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

No discussion of egg cuisine culture in Japan would be complete without touching on tamagoyaki. Literally “fried egg,” tamagoyaki is made in a small rectangular pan using eggs. Recipes can use a variety of add-ins, with sugar, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and/or dashi (bonito fish) the most prevalent.

As a dish, tamagoyaki dates back to 1873. It became more popular in the 1950s as egg production increased and the government encouraged serving it to kids as an economical way to add more protein to their diet.

Eaten as a side dish, you can get tamagoyaki in many restaurants across Japan. The dish is a staple of sushi restaurants, which some sources say used to serve it as a sushi variant on days when fishers brought in a low catch.

But you can do more than just eat tamagoyaki in Japan. TBS highlights Washo Cook, one of several companies that shows tourists how to cook various staples of Japanese cuisine. And yes, tamagoyaki is high on that list!

Tamagoyaki in mid-prep
Picture: TBS News Dig

The egg sandwich boom

Anthony Bourdain, who famously loved Japan’s culinary culture, held special praise for – of all things – a convenience store sandwich. The late chef and author called the Lawson egg salad sandwich “unnaturally fluffy, insanely delicious, incongruously addictive.”

While I’m no egg salad fan, Bourdain and I both agree that combini food is lit. If you are an egg sandwich fan, though, you’re in luck – the dish has taken off in Japan in a big way.

Egg sandwiches became popular in the US shortly after WWII, when meat rations were scarce, thanks to the ingenuity of a manager at a White Castle. Eventually, McDonald’s put similar dishes on its menus. Given Japan’s general cost-consciousness, it isn’t surprising that the dish grew in popularity across the islands.

You’ll find two variations of egg sandwiches in Japan. One is the traditional egg salad preparation, made with boiled eggs and mayonnaise. Some stores, however, will serve egg sandwiches with fried eggs cooked on demand. Some stores consider this a more economical approach, as it doesn’t require making an egg salad in advance.

Fried egg sandwiches are generally thought of as a Kansai region variant. But in fact, you can get them anywhere across the country.

While you can get egg salad sandwiches practically anywhere, Ako Mari, writing for Toyo Keizai, recommends Amanoya (天のや) in Tokyo’s Azabu-juban neighborhood. There, you can get their specialty egg salad sandwich, made with mayonnaise and mustard, during the day for 1,140 yen (around USD $8). The store also sells an anko-filled grilled sandwich, Ogura Toast, as well as French toast.

Planning a trip to Japan? Let Unseen Japan Tours help you create a custom, guided tour experience uniquely suited to your interests!

Sources

ぷるぷるオムライスに絶品卵かけご飯!外国人観光客がハマる!日本の“たまご料理”. TBS News Dig

日本人が大好きな「卵サンド」超絶進化中のワケ. Toyo Keizai

TKGとは。Japan TKG

TOKYO AND ANTHONY BOURDAIN, A CULINARY LOVE STORY. Sabukaru

喫茶店のたまごサンド、関東と関西で中身が違うって本当?どこが分岐点?歴22年のたまごサンド好きに理由を聞いてみた. Maido na News

玉子焼き / 日本. World Cuisine History & Recipes

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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