Omuraisu (aka omurice or omu rice, Japanese rice omelette)

omuraisu1.jpg

In Japan, department store restaurants and kid-friendly "family restaurants" always have a children's set menu, called okosama ranchi. In my day this was unvaryingly the same wherever you went. It was usually a tiny hamburger, fried croquettes or similar child-friendly entrée, a small, moulded round of some kind of fried rice or pirafu (which was really still fried rice, but using butter and ketchup instead of oil and soy sauce) with a little paper Japanese flag on top, and maybe a tiny mound of some sort of vegetable, like boiled carrots. Or it was an omuraisu (omu rice). Omu rice, or rice omelette, is an example of yohshoku, Japanese food that originated in the west but has been changed around to suit the Japanese palette. It's an omelette stuffed with that same pirafu or chikin raisu (chicken rice), and topped with a dollop of red ketchup.

Going to the department store restaurant was a big treat for me. In all of my memories of eating at a department store restaurant, my oba-chan - grandmother - is there. In retrospect, as a young mother with two small children and a husband sent away by his company to England, my mother probably didn't have the budget or the time to treat us to restaurant lunches. So my grandmother made sure we had those treats whenever she visited.

I don't have many memories of my grandparents, because I only knew them for a few years of my childhood. I spent my growing up years moving around in Japan, England and the U.S., moving wherever my father's company sent him. My grandmother, my mother's mother, was never a very healthy woman. She had had 6 children, which was not an unusual number at the time, but by the time she had her first grandchild (me), she had already suffered her first minor stroke. She suffered from several strokes after that, and died in her early 60s, while I was in my teens.

I never knew my grandmother to wear anything other than a kimono. My other grandmother, my father's mother, wore dresses most of the time, but not my mother's mother. She was quite a traditional woman in that sense. She was quite strict, and had a rather severe face that rarely smiled (again thinking back, this was probably because her strokes had partially paralyzed her face), and I was a little afraid of her. But she was very proud of her grandchildren.

maki_753_w_obachan.jpgHere I am aged 3, at my shichigosan ceremony with my grandmother.

I never remember my grandmother cooking for us, except for her prized umeboshi - my aunt had taken over the household duties at the honke (the main house of the clan) by then. So when I think of oba-chan and food, I think of those oh-so-salty homemade umeboshi, and of okosama ranchi and omu raisu. The comforting combination of softly cooked omelette with sweet ketchup-flavored rice containing tiny bits of chicken, takes me back to my four year old self, gazing wide-eyed at the plastic food displays at the restaurant. I would glance up to oba-chan's face to see if I could order that beautiful yellow omuraisu - and maybe, just maybe, a chocolate parfait afterwards? Her answer was always yes.

Omraisu or omu rice (Japanese rice omelette)

omuraisu2.jpg

  • 1 cup cooked white or brown rice
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chicken breast or boiled ham, cut into small pieces
  • butter
  • ketchup in a squeeze bottle
  • 2 large eggs (organic preferred)
  • salt and pepper

Equipment needed: one large sauté pan, 1 20cm/8-inch nonstick or cast iron frying pan

Sauté the chopped onion until transparent in butter. Add the chicken or ham and sauté until done. Add the rice and toss until heated through. Add about 2 Tbs. of ketchup and toss rapidly - you just want to color and flavor the rice, not make it soggy. Season with a little salt and pepper. Mound the rice on a plate in a sort of omelette shape.

Start heating a knob of butter in the frying pan until the butter stops bubbling. In the meantime, crack the eggs into a bowl, add a little salt and pepper and whisk with a fork. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and make an omelette that is still slightly runny in the middle.

As soon as it's done, carefully turn the omelette onto the mounded rice. Optionally cut it carefully down the middle, so that the egg runs a bit over the rice.

Squirt with a little ketchup on top. Serve immediately, perhaps with a small green salad on the side.

Notes:

  • A lot of people put the rice in the omelette while it's still in the pan and fold it over, but that tends to result in a too-thin and overcooked omelette. I prefer the mounding on top method.
  • For the best example on film of how to make an omuraisu, watch the movie masterpiece about food by Juzo Itami, Tampopo.
  • Robyn (the girl who ate everything) recently had omuraisu in New York and posted about it.

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