A simple meal of eggs and rice is enjoyed by people all around the world. For example, arroz con huevo, which translates to rice with eggs, is a popular Cuban dish made by topping freshly cooked rice with a fried egg. In the Caribbean, this recipe is supplemented with plantains, while the Spanish pair it with a sofrito, a tomato-based sauce. In countries, like the Philippines, fried eggs with rice is a breakfast staple.
In Japan, too, it is a beloved combo. Tamago kake gohan is a dish cooked by putting a raw egg on steamed rice alongside some seaweed for a quick and satisfying meal. A similar recipe, gyeran bap, or egg rice, is also popular in Korea.
However, there is a variation of this dish that is sought after in both these countries. Omurice, also spelt as omirice, is a portmanteau of omelette and rice. It consists of a sweet and savoury chicken fried rice served with ketchup, with a fluffy omelette on top.
According to a Time Out magazine article published in 2022, the dish was born in a Tokyo restaurant called Rengatei. One of their diners would order an omelette with rice daily, after which a cook decided to serve some ketchup with the rice and then wrap it in a thinly fried omelette.
The dish quickly gained popularity throughout Japan, and was made famous by the movie Tampopo directed by Juzo Itami in 1985. Omurice also made its way to Korea where it was adapted to Korean tastes, with the addition of kimchi and bulgogi (barbequed beef).
At the first summit in Tokyo on 15 March between South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida, the two shared a meal of omurice at the same restaurant the dish was born in, Rengatei. Yoon became the first South Korean president to visit Japan since 2019.
Motoo Kawabata, a professor teaching at Kwansei Gakuin University, who specializes in Japanese restaurants, told Reuters,“Kishida and Yoon had a more formal dinner of sukiyaki beforehand, but the real ice-breaker could have been when omurice was served. It could be an effort to foster a laid-back mood, through a casual dish that both Japanese and Koreans consider comfort food.”
A representative from the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri also told Bloomberg that Yoon has a passion for cooking and requested for the dish.
For those curious about omurice, here's a recipe by one of YouTube's top Korean recipe creators, Maangchi:
With inputs from Bloomberg and Reuters