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Breakfast of Champions, Japanese Style

By: Mike Liem

Date Posted: 2000-06-23

Wherever you are in the world, you’re probably not going to get an argument to the steadfast American adage of breakfast being the most important meal of the day. In Japan, however, the importance of the first meal of the day encompasses far more than nutritional value; just as significant, breakfast has to be equally palatable. For the typical Japanese go-getter, a breakfast bar or a plain bagel simply will not do!

In its simplest form, the Japanese breakfast consists of rice and misoshiru, or Japanese soybean soup. That’s right, the same essential accompaniment of the Japanese entree. Think of rice and misoshiru as the toast-and-jam “starter” in American-style breakfasts. From there, you can make the Japanese breakfast as elaborate and substantial as you wish it to be.

Full Japanese breakfast entrees, such as served in most minshukus (Japanese-style hotels) look a lot like a lunch or dinner teishoku, or meal set. In addition to the aforementioned rice and misoshiru, there’s also a grilled fish or seafood dish and any or all of the following: seaweed, sweet potato, and pickled ginger. You could be forgiven for mistaking a full Japanese breakfast for something that should be served much later in the day; the dead giveaway is usually a small bowl containing a raw egg.

Oh, you didn’t know about the raw egg? The raw egg is an integral part of what the Japanese call tamago-gohan, or “egg-rice.” In this case, fresh raw chicken or quail eggs are mixed with hot steamed rice and eaten like porridge.

Remember the scene from the original Rocky movie where Sylvester Stallone cracks open six raw eggs, churns them in a blender and chugs them down like beer? Well, with all the hoopla surrounding salmonella and the general western aversion for the consumption of raw eggs, chances are unlikely that at any time soon you’re going to try tamago-gohan or any other Japanese entrée that’s served with raw egg alongside.

My Japanese sources tell me that the best-quality, locally produced fresh eggs can be eaten raw without fear of bacterial contraction. Still, you can’t fault people for harboring health concerns. If you prefer your eggs on the cooked side, you would do well to opt for something like omu-rice, or Japanese rice omelet. Just keep in mind, though, that omu-rice, despite what the name might suggest, isn’t considered breakfast food in Japan!

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