Post Image
Credit: Photo: Photo: Jason Rampe; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe. Design: Kitchn
personal essay

Tamago Kake Gohan Is the Easy Recipe That Helped My Family Love Breakfast Again

published Jun 7, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

My mom knows that I adore pickled ginger atop tamago kake gohan. I know she knows — because on busy days during quarantine when she happened to be the first one up, there was always a bit of pickled ginger waiting on the breakfast table, right next to the rice cooker and raw eggs. But my mom prefers bonito flakes on hers, so if my dad or I prepared breakfast, we always put some in a little dish and placed it in front of where she normally sits. The chosen add-ons for a bowl of tamago kake gohan say something about the eater, and to know someone’s topping preferences by heart is to care about that person.

This popular savory Japanese breakfast, which translates as “egg over rice” (and is sometimes abbreviated as TKG), is exceptionally simple. Crack a raw egg into a bowl of hot cooked rice and sprinkle in some select seasonings — like salt, mirin, soy sauce, and hondashi (instant dashi granules) — before using chopsticks to whip it vigorously into a fluffy, creamy suspension. The meal is wonderfully mellow and umami-rich, not to mention uncomplicated to make. But I think it’s the toppings that really elevate this quick breakfast into comfort food — one that nurtured my family during the pandemic.

The chosen add-ons for a bowl of tamago kake gohan say something about the eater, and to know someone’s topping preferences by heart is to care about that person.

When I came home to California at the start of quarantine, I thought that staying with my family would afford us many opportunities to sit down to proper family breakfasts. No more granola bars scarfed down during the commute! No boiled eggs peeled at the office!

The reality unfolded a little differently. What seemed like an opportunity for greater autonomy turned out to be the waning of work-home separation. Job duties started to creep into personal time, and that meant frequently delaying or eschewing breakfast entirely; the sheer volume of cooking three meals a day was beginning to overwhelm.

One morning, I came downstairs to see the rice cooker on the “keep warm” setting, a bowl of raw pasteurized eggs beside it. Before my dad even opened his mouth, I knew what he had in mind: tamago kake gohan. I hadn’t seen this on our breakfast table in a while, but the déjà vu was immediate.

My father spent a lot of time in Japan for work, which gave him a lifelong  appreciation for Japanese food — a curiosity and interest he imparted to me throughout my childhood. Tamago kake gohan is a much-loved simple meal in Japan, where grocery stores even sell specialty soy sauces designed specifically for the dish, and there are restaurants that specialize solely in tamago kake gohan. My dad was first introduced to the dish in Tokyo decades ago — and he’s made it at home regularly ever since. When I was a kid, tamago kake gohan was a favorite of ours, and the breakfast was perfect for rushed mornings before school and work — in part because the smooth, creamy texture was conducive to scarfing down.

Over the years, life got busier, and breakfasts became simpler and less hearty. But that morning, seeing how prolonged isolation was draining us of our energy, my father announced that it was time to reinstate breakfasts. It didn’t have to be complicated, he insisted, but it did have to be eaten.

Tamago kake gohan just might be the perfect working-from-home breakfast. The Japanese meal is anything but time-consuming — a one-bowl breakfast that requires little prep or washing up. You can simply scoop some rice into a bowl, crack an egg over top, and quickly whip it all together before personalizing it with a few favorite toppings. On days when copious Zoom calls preclude us all from sitting down to breakfast as a family, knowing and prepping each other’s chosen add-ons has become a small gesture of endearment that helped us stay not only nourished — but also connected during an uneasy year.

It didn’t have to be complicated, he insisted, but it did have to be eaten.

My family has tamago kake gohan to thank for getting us back into our breakfast groove. I now know that my dad enjoys generous sprinklings of wasabi furikake and an extra egg yolk on his, and that my mom never wavers from bonito flakes and natto on hers. And I know they know my undying loyalty to pickled ginger and sliced scallions. In an otherwise unpredictable time, it was a small comfort that this much, at least, was certain. And although we’re out of quarantine and back to work now, living under separate roofs again, I think tamago kake gohan — and a family tradition — will be sticking around.