Wherein the Gaijin Learns What Breakfast Really Tastes Like.

RECIPE:Tamago Kake Gohan

I believe I mentioned that I lived with a Japanese family in Tokyo for the summer after my Sophomore year in high school. The closest I’d come to experiencing another culture prior to that was … actually, I hadn’t experienced another culture. I grew up in Hoopeston, Illinois (Sweet Corn Capital of the Free World) and when I was about 13 we moved to Mayfield, Ohio (home of Beaver Cleaver and Flo). My stay in Tokyo was a life-changing event for all parties. For me, because it changed the way I  viewed the world, although I probably didn’t act on that change until I was a little older and less self-involved. The life-changing part for the Japanese family who graciously took me in was that they got an insider’s view of just how self-centered American teenagers can be – probably quite a shock for them! When I think back on how I must have seemed to them, it embarrasses me to this day.

They made many changes in their lives to accommodate me, which I did not fully appreciate at the time. Their son Takahashi, a teenager himself, had to give up his room to the gaijin and slept in a room previously used as his father’s home office for the whole summer. Among the many other adjustments they made, they chose to eat an American breakfast each morning, as a way to make me feel a little bit at home at least once a day. I don’t know if someone had counseled them about what Americans eat for breakfast (because at home, we usually had cereal), but they made a real breakfast – full on eggs, bacon, toast, and orange juice, the works, every day I was there. I appreciated the gesture because it did remind me of home every day, but didn’t realize the magnitude of their change until much later. Do you know how hard it is to eat fried eggs using chopsticks?

About six weeks into my stay, we went on vacation to a small island, Hachijojima, for a week. We stayed in a hotel there and spent the week swimming, snorkeling and just generally enjoying ourselves. I was the only gaijin on the island, so for breakfast there was no bacon and eggs special. It was all Japanese food all the time (special tip for travelers: in Japan they just call it “food”). During that week, I was introduced to a breakfast dish that remains a favorite today. I always called it “rice and raw eggs”, but much later I learned its real name is tamago kake gohan, which means “egg sauce over rice”.

It is generally served as a portion of a full breakfast, often accompanied by tsukemono (pickled things) and miso soup but trust me here, it can stand on its own. If your first reaction is “ewwwww, raw eggs! salmonella!”, then chill just a little. The hot rice actually cooks the egg sauce as it’s mixed together. Give it a try. I think you’ll love it. The irony of the whole situation, that the one meal my host family Americanized turned out to be one of my favorite Japanese dishes, does not escape me. So here’s a shout-out 40 years late to the Kuahara family – thanks for introducing me to a staple in our house, and hey, I appreciate you not accidentally losing me in the streets of Tokyo during my stay in 1966, even though I’m sure you considered it.

Tip: If you don’t have a rice cooker,

it’s one of the best kitchen implement investments that you can make. You get perfect rice every time and most cookers allow you to put the rice in at night (or whenever you want to) and time it to be done in the morning, when you get up.  The sweet, tangy smell of Jasmine rice in the morning is a epicurean’s dream, and, if you just can’t stomach raw egg, you’ll still use the rice cooker for any dish with rice. Rice is a healthy substitute for potatoes and freezes great for lunches!

Rating: I give this a 5 because I love it and if I didn’t rate it a 5, none of you Gaijin would try it.

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3 Responses to Wherein the Gaijin Learns What Breakfast Really Tastes Like.

  1. Elizabeth says:

    It’s actually less gross than it always seemed when you ate it when I was a kid. And I didn’t realize you got it from Japan. For some reason I thought it had something to do with Rocky.

    • JT says:

      Rocky, ha ha ha. You’re confusing rice and raw eggs with those days when I’d drink a big glass of raw eggs just before going out for a run.

  2. Jen says:

    This sounds fantastic. I’m totally trying it. :) When living in Taiwan my favorite breakfast was dan bing street food: a thin rice type tortilla with an egg cracked on it, cooked lightly with onion, and covered in soy sauce.

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