Omuraisu (オムライス Eng: omurice) is one of those quick, unpretentious comfort foods enjoyed by the majority of the population. Omurice is an omelette with a fried rice filling. The word omuraisu is a mash-up of two words:
- Omuretsu （オムレツ）: omelette
- Raisu （ライス）: rice
So really, the name says it all. Omuraisu (and its derivatives) is an example of a gairaigo（外来語・がいらいご）, or foreign loan word. It falls under the category of youshoku （洋食・ようしょく）, or Western food. More accurately, youshoku is Western food that has been adapted to suit the Japanese palate. Other examples of youshoku are: karee-raisu (カレーライス Japanese curry with rice), furaido-chikin (フライドチキン fried chicken), and korokke (コロッケ croquettes).
The fried rice itself is Eastern; however it is commonly flavoured and garnished with ketchup, a notably Western condiment. The ketchup provides the sweet-sour flavour that is enjoyed by many, particularly children – in fact, omurice is a popular item on okosama-ranchi (お子様ランチ children’s menu). Some versions use demi-glace or mayonnaise. Others try to make their omurice more Japanese by using tonkatsu (豚カツ・とんかつ breaded pork cutlet) or okonomiyaki (お好み焼き・おこのみやき savoury pancake) sauce. Okinawa has their own version, called omutako (オムタコ omelette taco rice), which combines the popular Okinawan dish, tako-raisu （タコライス）, with omurice. Yet another version is omusoba （オム蕎麦・オムそば）, where the fried rice is replaced with fried soba noodles.
History of Omurice
Omurice was created in the early 1900s, when Western culture was picking up mainstream popularity in Japan. This was the direct result of the abolishment of Japan’s national seclusion, and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration during the late 1860s. Emperor Meiji declared that Western ideas were the key to improving Japan’s economic future; and so the influx of Western food and dishes (among other things) began. Consumption of red meat and Western cuisine was encouraged, as the Emperor believed the Western diet was the reason for the larger physical build of Westerners. This was the beginning of youshoku.
There are two popular version about how omurice was created. The first was that omurice was created in a restaurant called Renga-tei, in Tokyo’s Ginza district. The employees needed a meal that could be cooked quickly. They drew inspiration from a dish called chakin-zushi (茶巾寿司・ちゃきんずし sushi wrapped in a thin omelette) and created omurice. One day a customer saw some of the staff eating it and wanted to order it. It became so popular that it ended up on the menu and the rest is history.
The second story features a different restaurant, called Hokkyokusei, in Osaka. This restaurant had a regular patron who always ordered the same items: omelette and rice. This was because he had a weak stomach and could only digest soft foods. One day in 1925, the owner felt so sorry for this patron that he decided to make a new dish for him. He fried the rice with some ketchup and used it as a filling for an omelette. The patron was so delighted by the dish that when he asked for the name, the owner blurted out the first word that occurred to him: omuraisu.
Omurice Pop Culture
Traditionally the fried rice is used as a filling in an omelette. However, modern adaptations have made popular a version where a mound of fried rice is covered by the omelette, like a blanket. In recent years there has been a YouTube sensation regarding this version of omurice. Skilful chefs with deft hands roll their omelette into an ovoid (resembling a football or rugby ball) while ensuring that the insides remain soft and creamy. They then balance this on top of the mound of rice and with a quick flick of their wrist, slice into the omelette so that it drapes perfectly over the rice. Kichi Kichi in Kyoto is quite renowned for this, and there are several YouTube videos of their demonstrative omurice. Some people find it amazing; some find it revolting. I’ll let you be the judge.
As mentioned before, omurice is popular on children’s menu. This is probably why omurice is such a beloved dish – the Japanese have been exposed to it since they were children. It is also a great way to use up leftovers for time-strapped parents and cash-strapped students. You can customise omurice to suit your tastes, whether that be in the fried rice ingredients, seasoning, or the sauce used to finish your dish. Another menu where omurice is often featured is on those of maid cafes in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. It is popular because guests can ask the maids to write a specific message or draw a specific pattern on their omurice.
In media, omurice is featured in the 1985 movie, Tampopo. Tampopo is a food-centred comedy where a rouge “cowboy” takes it upon himself to help a struggling ramen business. Omurice shows up when a little boy is asked what he would like to eat, and he promptly replies ‘omurice’. More recently it is featured in the popular manga, Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars), in the form of a curry risotto omurice.
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Japan Marche, 2015, ‘Omurice’, Japan Marche, 26 July, viewed 1 May 2017, <http://japan-marche.jp/omurice.html>.
Kelley, L 2014, Rice Omelets, Yoshoku, and a Little International Understanding’, Silk Road Gourmet, 31 January, viewed 1 May 2017, <http://www.silkroadgourmet.com/tag/omurice/>.
Matsumoto, M 2017, ‘Omurice (オムライス)’, No Recipes, viewed 1 May 2017, <https://norecipes.com/omurice-recipe>.
Turtle, M 2013, ‘Omurice: 30 Days of Japanese Food’, Time Travel Turtle, 20 April, viewed 1 May 2017, <http://www.timetravelturtle.com/2013/04/omurice-japanese-food/>.