My first time in Japan I was really surprised restaurants were so specialised. Rather than having a selection of assorted dishes on their menu, most places specialise in one type of food. Often, they offer many different iterations, or variations on a theme (or flavour). One of my favourite types of places to eat is omurice restaurants. Usually somewhat retro, “Showa old skool cool”, omurice was very popular early last century and particularly after WWII.
Omurice, or omu-raisu, is a wasei-eigo word. A derivation from the Japanese pronunciation of omelette and rice. Yōshoku cuisine, meaning it has Western influence, this dish is the king of comfort food. The first time I encountered it I was enamoured. It is the kind of food that throws you back into your childhood. Made with chicken and ketchup fried rice, wrapped in an omelette, the nostalgia of these flavours together engenders sentimentality.
My favourite omurice is with rich demi-glace. The thick, savoury gravy over the light fluffy omelette is so good. It is also delectable with Japanese curry. But then, everything is good with Japanese curry. Another variation I really love is with Hamburg steak and demi-glace omurice. It is such a gratifying combination.
Although there is some doubt, the accepted birthplace of this delicious fare is Rengatei Restaurant, in The Ginza, in Tokyo. Available since the turn of the last century and unchanged on the menu. This particular omurice is less omelette and more rice with lots of egg cooked through it. The rival inventor perhaps responsible for this delicious offering is Hokkyokyusei, in Osaka. This restaurant serves omurice in the usual style. After doing some research, I discovered that the restaurant we visited in Shijo Kawaramachi, in Kyoto, was in fact the other branch of Hokkyokyusei. We went twice in a week. It was amazing. I remember all of the historic photos on the wall of the original restaurant in Tokyo. Our waiter may have worked there when it opened. He was very sweet and looked around 90 years old. It was the best Hamburg steak omurice ever!!
Omurice can come in a myriad of flavours. In true Japanese style, this results in an impressive display of wax models in the shop window. They look so satisfying and beckon you hither. The standard omurice is completely delicious. However, some other excellent choices include omurice with; demi-glace, Hamburg steak, mornay sauce, panko prawns, Japanese curry, mushrooms, pork, ham (or Spam in Okinawa), crab, scallop and shrimp. Other variations include omusoba- omelette with yakisoba and omutaco- omelette over Okinawa taco rice. YUM 😋
My first omurice restaurant experience was also a stand-out for me. In an upstairs place in the back streets of Shibuya. Pomme no ki is a very traditional omurice restaurant, serving omurice and hiyashi rice, which is hashed beef and rice. There were no English menus. Initially intimidated, and with only my children to assist me, we decided to take a chance. I had been learning Japanese for around 6 months. Luckily, everything was written in katakana, the script used for foreign words. I could understand most of it. My first completely Japanese menu success. Like many other restaurants in Japan, if you can’t read the menu, you can always point to the wax models in the front window. This is a totally socially accepted manner in which to order your food.