Tamagoyaki: the Japanese Omelet

Although May was National Egg Month in the U.S., in Japan eggs have a surprising appearance at all meals, making them well-celebrated year-round.

Let me tell you one of my favorite parts about eggs in Japan — you can buy them in a vending machine. Not kidding! They don’t drop down like a bag of chips, but are inside a locker you open up and grab a carton of 10. Eggs are also served primarily for lunch and dinner, not as a breakfast food. Soft boiled eggs, over-easy eggs and near-raw eggs are served on a variety of dishes, including ramen and yakisoba. But there is one egg dish that I can never seem to get enough of: tamagoyaki.

Tamago is the Japanese word for egg, so tamagoyaki literally translates to ‘grilled egg.’ Many times if you see tamago on a menu, it is referring to this dish, also known in English as a Japanese omelet. It is sweet and often served cold, although I have had it served warm many times as well. If you have eaten in a sushi restaurant before and ordered tamago, this is likely what you were served.

Besides eggs, the other ingredients include sugar, the Japanese condiment mirin, soy sauce and sometimes dashi.  They key technique here is in the “rolling,” which typically requires the use of a special pan. The idea is that, as the egg cooks, it is rolled up and then more egg is cooked and rolled over the previous roll. We use an easier method that we found online. You cook a thin layer, fold it in half, then add more egg mixture, cook and then fold in half in the other direction. Thin layer by thin layer, this stacks up to create a delicate, lightly sweet and wonderfully delicious egg dish. It is great for any meal of the day and even makes a tasty snack!

For a great step-by-step cooking lesson and traditional recipe, check out this one from Just One Cookbook. Nami, who runs the site, is my go-to resource for attempting Japanese dishes at home. 

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Melinda Boyd
Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD, is a registered dietitian and military spouse living in Japan. She is co-author of Train Your Brain to Get Thin, and blogs at Nutrition, Food, Travel & More. Follow her on Twitter.