Taimeiken, Nihonbashi, Tokyo - home of Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette)

I am not sure if I have adequately conveyed my deep, abiding love for the movie Tampopo on these pages. It is a seminal movie for me. I adore it so much that I re-watch it at least every couple of months without fail. It continues to remind me how profound and involving and joyful food can be - food for its own sake, not as a metaphor for anything else.

Now, most people think of Tampopo as “that ramen movie”. Of course, the central story revolves around the creation of the ultimate ramen for Tampopo’s little ramen shop. But there are many other food related vignettes too, and one of my favorites is the scene where Tampopo’s son, Ta-bo, has an omuraisu or rice omelette made for him by a little tramp. Here’s the entire scene on YouTube. (Yes I’m pretty sure it’s a homage to Charlie Chaplin.)

Apparently, this style of omuraisu / omurice (where the soft-cooked omelette is placed on top of a bed of fried rice, rather than wrapped around the rice) was developed for the movie by the director with the cooperation of Taimeiken, an old yoshoku (or yohshoku or youshoku (Japanese-style western cooking)) restaurant in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. Established in 1931 or the 6th year of the Showa period, Taimeiken is still thriving, now under the management of the grandson of the founder. It was even featured prominently in this New York Times article from 2 years ago about yoshoku. And of course, Tampopo Omuraisu is on the menu.

As much as I love Tampopo, I’d never been to Taimeiken, simply because Nihonbashi is not an area of Tokyo that I get to that often. (Tokyo is a huge city, and people tend to stick to certain regions of it, depending on where one lives, works, and so on.) I finally made it there though a couple of weeks ago. We carefully picked the date and time (a slightly chilly but sunny mid-week day, a bit early for lunchtime) to avoid the lines that we’d heard about. On busy days, according to Japanese review sites like Tabelog, the wait can be an hour or more to get in.

Like other shinise (see notes) yoshoku restaurants in Tokyo, Taimeiken operates on two floors. Upstairs is a rather expensive French-influenced restaurant, and downstairs is a less expensive (though by no means cheap…this is central business district Tokyo after all) and informal space. While the Tampopo Omuraisu is on the menu of both restaurants, we stuck to downstairs. It’s a nice, comfortable space, with dark wood floors and furniture to match. The tables were already pretty full when we got there a bit before noon, but there was no line outside. The clientele was a mixture of office workers from the neighborhood and shopping ladies, some with small kids in tow.

taimeiken-interior1.jpg

The heavy wooden furniture had a nice retro Meiji or Taisho-era (late 19th-early 20th century) look to it. As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, retro is very in in Tokyo these days.

taimeiken-interior2.jpg

Taimeiken does not have desserts on its menu, and when it comes to starters or sides there are only two things you should be choosing. That’s the “borscht” (though I wondered if they were using tomatoes instead of beets), and the “coleslaw”, which is sort of like a shredded salad rather than a vinegary or mayonnaise-clogged slaw. Each is just 50 yen each, a price that makes almost everyone wonder if it’s a typo at first. (I’m pretty sure the 50 yen is a nostalgia-inducing gimmick of sorts, but I don’t mind.) They are Taimeiken specialities.

taimeiken-soupslaw.jpg

For the main course, I of course wanted the Tampopo Omuraisu. There are actually several omuraisu listed on the menu, plus a couple of “omuretsu” (omelettes without rice), so if you want the Tampopo version, be sure to order the Tampopo Omuraisu.

After a few moments of waiting while enjoying the boriumu ippai (hearty and copious - actually it’s just a manageable small bowlful) borscht and the coleslaw, the object of my desire arrived. The pale yellow, smooth surface of the just-cooked omuraisu lay upon the bed of chicken-and-tomato (or ketchup) rice, pregnant with promise.

taimeiken-omurice1.jpg

The waitress helpfully instructs you to cut through the surface vertically with a knife, but I didn’t need to be told. I carefully pierced the taut skin of the omelette - a most exciting moment. The split omelete seemed to sigh a little as it relaxed into the rice, as the creamy insides came tumbling out. Apparently, when the previous head of Taimeiken came up with this variation on the omuraisu, his inspiration was the image of a tampopo, which means dandelion, bursting into bloom.

taimeiken-omurice2.jpg

The sauce on a Tampopo Omuraisu is plain and simple ketchup. I totally endorse this choice. If you want demiglace sauce or beef stew sauce on your omuraisu, order another omuraisu from the menu or go elsewhere. I’ll stick to the tangy-sweetness of ketchup. A perfect spoonful of omuraisu has a good balance of creamy egg, rice, and ketchup, and each spoonful of the Tampopo Omuraisu was just right. Memories of my childhood came flooding back with each blissful mouthful.

taimeiken-omurice3.jpg

The only slight downside is that the perfection of the omelette made me ashamed about my own, far less impressive looking attempts at making omuraisu. I am determined to work on my omelette technique. (Although my chicken rice is as good as theirs, if I do say so myself.)

Taimeiken: Practical information

Taimeiken is located a short block away from the C5 exit of Nihonbashi station (also written as Nihombashi; the Japanese is 日本橋, which means “Japan Bridge”) on the Ginza, Tozai and Asakusa metro lines. After you emerge from the underground up the long flight of stairs, just go around the corner and you should see the store sign.

taimeiken-kanban.jpg

This is the sign marking the entrance to the lobby of the small building that houses the Taimeiken empire. (There is also a kite museum in the building, which sounds interesting but which I didn’t check out.) The ground floor restaurant right off it is the more casual one as I mentioned, and upstairs is the formal dining room. Be sure you’re going to the right place.

taimeiken-entrance.jpg

In case you should not care for paying 1850 yen for an omelette, however good, or you are not a fan of Tampopo the movie (WHAT??), they also have a daily lunch special for around 800-900 yen, posted (in Japanese only) on the window outside, plus other yoshoku dishes such as hayashi rice, gratin, croquettes (korokke), spaghetti “naporitan” and more. One of our party actually had the kakifurai - breaded deep fried oysters (1280 yen) - which were really good too. Kakifurai used to make a regular appearance at dinner when I was growing up, when fresh oysters were still pretty cheap. Nowadays they are a treat.

taimeiken-kakifurai.jpg

The ground floor restaurant is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner, and is cash only. The upstairs restaurant is closed on Sundays and take major credit cards.

Japanese only web site. There’s a recipe in English for an omuraisu, though not the Tampopo version, by the former head of Taimeiken (the father of the current head) on Nipponia from around 2000.

Taimeiken also operates a prepared food counter, Delicatessen Hiro, in the food halls of the nearby Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi store, the flagship of the chain.

Look for shinise

A shinise (老舗, pronounced shi-ni-SEH) means a business, especially a restaurant or store, that was established many years ago and has maintained its good name for that long. A shinise restaurant that is still popular, like Taimeiken or many other places I’ve talked about on this site, is usually a sure bet to be good in a nice old-fashioned way, especially in highly competitive Tokyo.

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Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

The little parsley heart atop the omelette is one of the most epic garnishes I have ever seen. ♥

Rick | 8 December, 2010 - 18:54

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

Ah, you've made me hungry again! :D

I really am not a fan of ketchup (I love demiglace omuraisu), but if I ever go there I'll have that omuraisu with ketchup, for sure! It's funny how omuraisu can immediately become comfort food even for someone who never ate it as a kid. I used to think that comfort food *had to* be something you ate as a kid, but I changed my mind after encountering things like omuraisu (and watching international students and friends from overseas or living overseas encounter things like from-scratch macaroni and cheese, tonkatsu, butter chicken with naan, etc.). Sometimes a food just clicks with your pleasure and comfort center.

Tampopo is an excellent film, not to mention a real artifact of its era. But it can be a bit of a surprise to people who are expecting a cute, quirky heartwarmer with ramen, rather than a moderately challenging film with apparently disconnected storylines, sex scenes, and violence. (These aren't bad things; it's just that some people need to be warned about them or they'll have a negative reaction to the movie, LOL.)

--
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http://www.talktotheclouds.com (for teachers)

wintersweet | 8 December, 2010 - 21:47

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

I've never heard of the movie Tampopo before reading this post (WHAT??) but that scene was just AWESOME. I love making scrambled eggs with gooey parts but I fail at omelet presentation due to clumsy fold-overs and out-of-pan slides. Very 'eh' end product. But those quick hit handle flip? COOL! I'm going to try it out right now as I attempt this dish! :D

Saitial | 9 December, 2010 - 03:58

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

It looks so delicious!

If it makes you feel any better, I once heard Bobby Flay say that sometimes, when someone wants to be hired for his restaurant(s?), he asks him to make an omelette. He said that *because* it's such a simple food that cooks fast, it takes a lot of skill to make it perfect.

A sandwich with omelette can be comfort food ^_^ It's also nice that I can say so out loud, since eggs are not ''banned'' any more... hehe...

Irit | 9 December, 2010 - 07:14

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

You've solved a huge mystery for me. Every time I see that scene, I want omuraisu so badly. Then, once I found out what omuraisu was supposed to be like, it wasn't anything like in the movie. Now I know why. Gosh I wish I could have it right now, but it's definitely on my list whenever I finally make it to Tokyo.

Thanks for sharing this!

Sarah of Get Cooking | 9 December, 2010 - 07:19

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

I regret not having this when i was in Tokyo last month! Already plan to eat there but have no time :(

Pat | 9 December, 2010 - 14:39

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

Tampopo is one of my favorite movies of all time. I've often wanted to try to make Omuraisu. Maybe I'll put the movie in and use this segment as a guide.

Cea | 9 December, 2010 - 18:30

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

That is SO COOL that you got to that restaurant finally! I was introduced to Tampopo through your blog a couple of years back, and it is a fantastic movie. Congrats on getting to live out this little piece of movie magic come to life. :)

I love your description: "The split omelete seemed to sigh a little as it relaxed into the rice, as the creamy insides came tumbling out." Great imagery - like the food is comfortable as it is comforting. :)

AnnM | 9 December, 2010 - 21:16

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

The "borscht" is a Hong Kong style tomato-veggie soup and doesn't actually contain beets =)

I generally make it at home with the veggies (tomato, potato, carrot, celery, cabbage) but instead of just beef strips, use oxtail. So good on a chilly night!

Eleana | 9 December, 2010 - 23:39

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

I don't know about Hong Kong style, but cabbage borscht is a common eastern european borscht, and you're right, it is delicious. It's not served with the common accoutrements to beef borscht, like sour cream or mashed potatoes.

anon. | 17 December, 2010 - 17:33

Tampopo

I, too love the film and enjoy seeing it again and again. Have you seen The Ramen Girl
http://movies.netflix.com/Movie/The-Ramen-Girl/70115403?strackid=4e95a59...?
It doesn't rise to the level of Tampopo, but it is enjoyable.

Argol | 10 December, 2010 - 17:37

Re: Tampopo

It doesn't rise to the level of Tampopo is an understatement! As much I like Toshiyuki Nishida and Brittney Murphy, not to mention ramen, I thought Ramen Girl was pretty bad. ^_^;

maki | 10 December, 2010 - 17:56

Re: Tampopo

RE: The Ramen Girl; no, its not great but it has a few nice moments. I put probably the best scene in it up on Youtube, one where the Ramen Master (Toshiyuki Nishida) tries to explain ramen at the deepest level: "A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe”. Its well acted by Toshiyuki Nishida. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAwgswOQJBo

Jed | 7 January, 2011 - 07:11

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

I didn't know there was a special version of Omuraisu like this! I might have to try finding that movie. Your restaurant reviews are great btw even though I definitely wouldn't be ordering omuraisu in this one now after seeing the way they serve the omelet, since I'm not a fan of gooey egg to say the least. ^^

Stefanie | 11 December, 2010 - 11:07

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

I used to eat this as a kid growing up in the US. There is a family recipe handed down from my grandmother who would have lived in Ibaraki-ken during the Meii/Taisho years. Only we called it 'hayashi rice'. The ketchup is the secret ingredient.

anon. | 13 December, 2010 - 04:59

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

That's interesting, since hayashi rice is (to most people) a Japanese version of beef stew or stroganoff in Japan. My recipe for hayashi rice here. I did a quick look around and it doesnt seem like Ibaragi people call omuraisu hayashi rice. Maybe it got mixed up somehow in your family?

maki | 13 December, 2010 - 08:47

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

My husband's office is in Nihonbashi - I may have to pay him a visit at lunchtime sometime soon. Sounds like a yummy winter lunch.

Pamela Huxtable | 14 December, 2010 - 15:04

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

I was researching recipes for oseichi ryori. I recognized your omelet from tampopo as soon as I saw it. It's beautiful!

teri | 29 December, 2010 - 22:19

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

My husband and I re-watched Tampopo recently. I was on the couch one evening researching for our Japan trip (first time!). We ended up getting so excited about all the food we'd get to try in Japan that we decided it was time to put on our ultimate food/noodle comfort movie.

NKD | 3 January, 2011 - 17:17

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

I will be trying the Ramen there when I visit my relatives in Tokyo next week. I enjoyed the tampopo omuraisu but have been told by many that the Ramen is pretty good too. Glad you made it to Taimeiken! :)

anon. | 4 January, 2011 - 07:13

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

Orange rice??? How is it possible? How could you made it this color, I want too

starralex76 | 25 January, 2011 - 06:39

Re: Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette) at Taimeiken, a ...

I am going to Taimeken this week! Than you so much for this post Maki, Tampopo is one of my favourite movies and I really want to eat that Omu Rice!!!

Andrea Montero | 5 March, 2011 - 03:33

Re: Taimeiken, Nihonbashi, Tokyo - home of Tampopo Omuraisu ...

Hello Maki!
I have been following your blog for quite a while and bought your bento book, which is utterly fantastic!
Anyway, I am vey grateful for suggesting this gorgeous place. I love yoshoku and omurice is my favourite dish.I had a very good one in a little restaurant in Kyoto (unfortunately I don't really remember the name( but when I visit Tokyo I never know where to go for a good omurice (I am sure there are plenty of places, I just don't know where).
Taimeiken looks fantastic. When I go back to Japan next November, I'll be sure to visit this place. Oysters looks so good,too!

Momographica | 14 January, 2012 - 10:22

Re: Taimeiken, Nihonbashi, Tokyo - home of Tampopo Omuraisu ...

The rice omelet is one of the drooling Japanese cooking achievements of all time. I will visit Nihonbashi to taste this treat on my next voyage, for sure!

Chef Ting | 15 April, 2013 - 14:45

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