Bento, or boxed lunches, are very popular in Japan. They can be bought at train stations, in department stores, convenience stores, bento shops, or even made by hand at home. Bento can be as simple as a couple onigiri (rice balls) or as elaborate as kyaraben (short for “character bento”, it is designed to resemble anime characters or scenes) and oekakiben (short for “picture bento”, it is designed to resemble people, buildings, flowers, and other objects or scenes).
A popular item that frequently shows up not only in real-life bento, but also anime depictions of bento, is rolled egg, also known as tamago-yaki (tamago meaning egg, and yaki referring to its method of cooking). It is sometimes made sweet, sometimes savoury and salty, and is visually appealing as it lends a cheerful shock of color to a bento.
This delicious and simple dish is seen in episode 5 of Kanon (2006) when the protagonist, Yuuichi, has lunch with the reticent Mai and bubbly Sayuri. Yuuichi, adorably makes Mai speak by asking her questions about the food she likes, and by forcing her to request for items in the bento box, one particular item being tamago-yaki. I love this scene in Kanon because Mai is just too cute… And, the bento looks yummy too!
Tamago-yaki is also featured in Lucky Star and Minami-Ke, as well as almost every anime where a bento is seen, which truly speaks volumes as to its popularity.
About the recipe:
The secret of making great tamogoyaki is all in the technique of how it’s cooked. Typically cooked in a rectangular pan with tall, straight sides, it can also be made in a regular non-stick frying pan.
The principle behind cooking tamago-yaki is to create layer upon layer of egg, by cooking thin sheets of egg and rolling them up to create a fluffy but solid block of egg. The egg is then cut into smaller pieces and can be used as a component in a bento, an ingredient in sushi, or even as part of a Japanese-style breakfast.
Because bento often include a variety of different dishes, such as the image above from Lucky Star, episode 7, tamago-yaki should not be your entire meal. Rather, it is simply one component of many that, when arranged together, create a balanced and delicious bento.
About the ingredients:
Dashi is a common, clear fish stock that comes in the form of powder or granules. It dissolves into anything wet, and is often used in Japanese cooking. Add more dashi if you like your tamago-yaki more savoury than sweet.
While cooking sake gives a nice flavour to the egg, it is not essential to the recipe. If you have some on hand, by all means use it, but no need to go out of your way to buy it!
Sugar adds a slight sweetness to the egg. If you would like your tamago-yaki to be more sweet than savoury, add more sugar.
This recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to play around with the ingredient amounts. You can really customize it to your tastes!
Makes 2 portions for a bento
- 4 eggs
- 3 tbsp water
- (1 tbsp sugar) if you like it sweet
- 2 tsp Japanese soy sause
- 1 tsp cooking sake
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch dashi stock
1. In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients until well incorporated.
2. Heat a non-stick pan or a tamago-yaki pan, and add cooking oil.
3. Pour enough egg to cover the bottom of the pan, swirling the egg to the edges by tilting the pan slightly. Cook until the bottom of the egg is just solidified enough to move. The top of the egg will still be uncooked. For all the layers, try not to brown the bottoms of the egg, or break any of the layers.
Using chopsticks or a spatula, gently begin folding the layer of egg upon itself, pressing gently every so often to ensure that the layers adhere together. When you begin folding the egg, start with the first inch or so of the egg layer, push down gently to make sure no hole forms in the middle, and then continue folding from there.
Once you reach the end of your egg layer, gently push the rolled egg back to it’s starting place. Add additional egg to the pan, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Allow the added egg to touch the rolled egg and adhere to it, allowing for seamless transition to the next layer of egg.
Continue adding layers and folding the tamago-yaki until all the egg mixture is added.
4. Remove from pan and let cool on a plate before cutting into bite-size pieces.
Source: My sister-in-law