Do you know that the average Japanese person consumes around 320 eggs per year?
Japan is also the number 1 ranked country for its eggs consumption per year, followed by Paraguay and China. If you’ve been here for quite a while, you can see that eggs are commonly used in many Japanese dishes, and there are numerous ways to cook and eat them. In western cuisines, eggs are seen as a ‘condiment’ to be put on the side, whereas in Japan eggs have a different status in culinary, as it is mainly used as a main ingredient in many dishes. But even for the egg-loving Japanese, consuming eggs wasn’t really popular until post-World War II, when a tide of western culture came over and awash Japan and woke them up to the healthiness of eggs, as high amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals abound, making it a perfect addition to a balanced meal.
1) Onsen Tamago
Onsen Tamago （温泉卵), or “hot spring egg,” is commonly seen in many Japanese restaurants that sells donburi-mono (rice bowl dishes) or onsen areas. In some areas, it is called Ondō Tamago（温度卵）which literally translates to “temperature egg.” You can see Onsen Tamago written as 温玉 on some menus, which is just a shorter form of Onsen Tamago (温泉玉子). It is often confused with Hanjyuku Tamago（半熟卵）, which I will explain later in the article.
For Onsen Tamago, the egg yolk is half cooked, and the egg white is prepared somewhere between raw and half cooked. Onsen Tamago is slow cooked within hot spring water and is steamed for around 30 minutes under 70°C, but it differs for different hot springs. The egg solidifies from the inside first before the outside due to the lower solidification point of the yolk (70°C) compared to the white (80°C).
The way to eat Onsen Tamago is to simply crack open the egg and eat them with either a donburi like Gyu-don (beef rice bowl), udon, or simply as a side dish dipped in soy sauce. It can also be bought from convenience stores.
Oyakodon (親子丼), Chicken and Egg Bowl, is a type of donburi-mono with a combination of sweet and savoury taste which is commonly eaten in Japanese restaurants as well as households, as they are very simple to make. The creativity of the Japanese can be seen in the naming of Oyakodon, as Oya （親）stands for parent and Ko（子）stands for child、which when combined together created the name “parent-child bowl”. I was pretty shocked when I realised Oyakodon’s meaning, and found it kind of cruel to eat a family (but I love to eat it anyways).
Oyakodon contains simmered chicken, eggs and onions seasoned with soy sauce, mirin and dashi stock, and topped with spring onions.
There are a few variations of the Oyakodon.
Tanindon （他人丼）or “stranger bowl” is where the chicken is substituted with pork or beef. As you can probably guess, it is called a stranger bowl because the egg and the meat has no “family relation”.
Another type of Oyakodon is Sake Oyakodon （鮭親子丼）, which is a combination of salmon and salmon roe topped over rice.
Chawanmushi（茶碗蒸し）is an egg custard dish which literally means “steamed in a tea bowl”. It is usually served as one of the dishes in a set meal in a traditional Japanese restaurant. Chawanmushi has a savoury taste and is eaten with a spoon, not chopsticks.
The recipe is similar to the Chinese steamed egg, but with different toppings. Chawanmushi’s egg custard base contains eggs, dashi stock, mirin and soy sauce, and is commonly topped with shiitake mushrooms, ginkgo, kamaboko (fish cake), chicken, shrimp, etc. It can be served either hot or cold depending on the season.
If you don’t know what TKG stands for, you might be imagining a car model or something else right now, but no. TKG stands for Tamago Kake Gohan （卵かけご飯）, which means “egg on rice,” and is seen as the king of the B-grade gourmet while also being the soul food of many Japanese. It could be eaten in a restaurant, at home, or even convenience store at anytime of the day as it is quite easy and cheap to make. Japanese cuisine often emphasises on the freshness and natural taste of its ingredients, and TKG is probably one of the best examples.
Unlike other egg dishes, the egg is served raw on a bowl of steamy rice and drenched with soy sauce. You might be put off with the idea of TKG if you are not familiar with the culture of eating raw eggs but in Japan, it is safe to eat raw eggs as they are often sterilised and printed with a best before date on top of the egg. If this helps you, I see TKG kind of like a sashimi don, but with raw eggs rather than raw fish.
Many soy sauce companies produce specific types of soy sauce just for TKG, containing konbu (kelp), katsuobushi (bonito) and other ingredients which give the taste of “umami”. There are even restaurants that specifically sell TKG.
People have different recipes and styles for TKG, for example, some may prefer to crack the egg directly onto the rice, while others would rather mix the eggs and soy sauce before pouring onto the rice. There are also other variations which mainly differ in the preparation of the egg or toppings.
Tamagoyaki or “grilled egg” is a type of Japanese omelette served in a variety of occasions with different dishes. It is also a must-know dish in most households. They are served in bento, as a dish during breakfast, a snack with a drink, dessert, or as a nigiri (sushi roll), but they are cooked differently which leads to a diversity in tastes.
The flavour of tamagoyaki differs according to the area it is made within Japan, though the base is still mostly the same, with ingredients such as eggs, salt, sugar, soy sauce, sake, etc. The Kanto area (which includes Tokyo) have tamagoyaki with a sweeter taste as they tend to season it with more sugar or mirin, which also produces a firmer texture. Tamagoyaki in the Kansai area, which includes prefectures such as Osaka and Kyoto, often has the savoury taste of the dashi stock, which also makes them juicier and softer than the Kanto area’s tamagoyaki. Tamagoyaki in the Kanto area is often called Atsuyaki Tamago （厚焼き玉子）, which means “thick grilled egg;” whereas in the Kansai area they are called Dashimaki Tamago （だし巻き卵）, which translates to “egg with dashi.”
Tamagoyaki is cooked in a rectangular pan called makiyakinabe or tamagoyakiki, where you roll layers of eggs together as you cook them. Some people may even add in toppings like vegetables or seafood. It can be served either hot or cold depending on the occasion. For example, it is served cold in most traditional sushi restaurants, as tamagoyaki is served as a dessert at the end of an omakase. Whereas in many households, tamagoyaki is cooked for breakfast and eaten hot with rice.
Omurice（オムライス）, is a short form of omelette and rice. Omurice is served in youshokuya（洋食屋）, which are Western-style Japanese restaurants, maid cafes and is also cooked commonly in Japanese households. Omurice is a popular dish often appearing on kid’s menu in many chain restaurants as well.
Omurice was invented in the Taisho period where the Japanese, influenced by western culture, adopted some parts of their cuisine into their local dishes. It was said to be originated from two different restaurants, though both started with the chef combining the French style omelette with rice which then developed into the Omurice we see nowadays.
The basic Omurice consists of a thin layer of egg wrapped over a bowl or oval-shaped chicken fried rice cooked with ketchup. The seasonings for the fried rice may vary, but it is usually made with chicken, onion, mushroom, carrot, pea, corn, and of course seasoned with ketchup. The sauce poured over the Omurice also differs from one place to another but the classic one is the almighty ketchup. Other common sauces are gravy, curry and cream.
In maid cafes (which you can find a lot of in Akihabara, Tokyo), Omurice is one of the staple foods where the maid will draw cute patterns or write messages on top of the egg in ketchup upon request for any order of Omurice.
There are many variations of Omurice available in Japan, differing in the sauces, toppings, and cooking method. One popular version of Omurice is the “Tanpopo Omurice,” Tanpopo being a Japanese film from 1985. In the film, an omelette was placed on top of the rice, and then cut open after which the creamy and fluffy centre flowed out and covered the rice. When Omurice is served with sauces such as curry and gravy, it is common to have other toppings like braised beef served alongside of the Omurice.
I find cooking Omurice as one of the best ways to clear leftover food in the fridge, because I can put different ingredients into the fried rice and top it with a layer of fried egg (although, I do cook the Tanpopo style omurice when I am feeling fancy).
7) Ajitsuke Tamago
Ajitsuke Tamago（味付け卵）, or seasoned egg is done by marinating a Hanjuku Tamago （半熟卵）, which is a soft-boiled egg, in soy sauce, mirin, sugar, water, etc. for period of time to add a flavour of “umami” to the egg. Ajitsuke（味付け）simply means “Added flavour” and Ajitsuke Tamago is a common topping for ramen, as well as a snack that can be bought in convenience stores.
People may confuse Ajitsuke Tamago with Onsen Tamago and rightly so as they are both in the state of “half-cooked”. The main difference is that Ajitsuke Tamago has a fully cooked egg white and a soft yolk, whereas Onsen Tamago has raw egg white with a harder yolk. However, the style of the Ajitsuke Tamago varies from the ramen restaurant as many often have secret recipes with their marinade, the cooking or even the egg type.
So, which is the best type of Tamago?
It is difficult to compare all 7 types of egg dishes as they are all delicious and are eaten in different occasions. There is also still many more ways to cook and eat an egg beyond these 7 types. One great style not mentioned is when having sukiyaki (a Japanese-style hot pot), raw eggs are often used as a dipping sauce for beef slices and other ingredients to enhance the flavour plus give a slimy texture to the meat. The Western-style cooked eggs such as fried and scrambled eggs are also commonly eaten by younger generations for breakfast in Japan served with a slice of toast.
Japan is truly on top of their game with eggs – from the beginning with the quality of the hen and farm, then to all creative ways to prepare, cook and at last the method of eating the egg. In 2014 a Japanese company Sanrio which produces cartoon even created Gudetama (lazy egg), a character based on an egg which became one of the most popular cartoon figures within the country and even worldwide for its cuteness, showing the love Japanese have for eggs. As an ingredient with rich nutrients, a variety of cooking methods, and a price with could be afforded by most of the population, eggs definitely deserve its place as a staple of the Japanese cuisine. No matter what kind of taste you prefer, what age you are or what time of the day it is, there must be at least one type of Tamago ryori (egg dish) which you would definitely love!