Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Omu Rice Deconstructed

I've been thinking about Japan lately, and who hasn't? The events are devastating.

I have two old friends from university who live there. I've heard from one that she is alright; the other I don't know how to get in touch with. We've lost touch over the years, but I hope she's alright and wonder how she is.  Two other friends from here in Austria were in Tokyo when the earthquake struck, but are now back in Vienna. Thank goodness.

So I've been thinking about Japan--the people I know and about the times I spent with them. Both of my friends I met on semesters abroad, but not at the same time. A few years ago, uh, way back in 2000 (God, has it really been almost 11 years?), I spent a semester abroad in China with one of the girls, the one I've had contact with, and she introduced me to omu rice. It was one of the reliably good vegetarian options available as delivery on Peking University's campus. On the way home from that semester, I stopped in Japan and stayed with the second friend, the one I've lost touch with, for about a week. I told her about my new found love for omu rice, and she showed me how to make it. I'd like to share it with you. It's easy, quick and completely surprising.

What comes to mind when you think of Japanese food?


Sushi. Raw fish. Noodles. Miso soup. Am I right?

I would bet that you didn't think of omelets. I originally didn't either, and I still wouldn't if I never had been introduced to omu rice while studying in China.

I was told omu rice (by the way it was spelled OmRice on the Chinese restaurant's menu) is basically an omelet with fried rice. And that it was, but the rice was pink. Yep, pink. I didn't think too much of it and figured it was some type of sauce. I loved the stuff though and every time we ordered in, I always ordered OmRice. It wasn't until I learned how to cook it that I learned what that secret pink/red sauce was....

Any guesses?


I know! I was in shock, too. Here I thought I'd been eating some great new foreign Japanese rice sauce, and it turns out to be plain, ole ketchup.

You probably won't believe me, but I swear ketchup and fried rice is delish and that this is actually how the Japanese eat it. Omu rice is a staple on children's (and some grown-up) menus in restaurants around Japan and in Japanese homes as it's made quickly from things you already have on hand. I don't know how omu rice got to be a staple, quick food for the Japanese, but it has made it's way from their kitchens into mine.

Omu rice (or ome rice, short for omuraisu, a.k.a. omelet rice) is a crêpe style omelet wrapped around fried rice seasoned with ketchup. Sometimes things like vegetables, cooked chicken, hot dogs, onions, etc. are fried with the rice. There is also often a big blob of ketchup on top of the omelet.

Trust me on this one, it's really great. And kids especially will love it.

Here is a clip from the Japanese movie Tampopo (Dandelion), where a guy makes omuraise with chopsticks. I wish I could fold an omelet like that!

It's supposedly a Japanese comedy filled with food, a love of life and cultural differences. I think it sounds like my kind of movie.

I don't speak Japanese, but according to YouTube the dialogue is as follows: 
- You're not eating much, sonny. Can I fix you something? What do you want?
- A rice omelet.
- Rice omelet. Hmm. Okay, follow me.

I'm going to give you two versions of omurice, both with quinoa (perhaps we should change the name to omukinoa?). It's what I had on hand when I thought of omurice; I'm certain other grains work just as well. I've also added a bit of chili powder as I like things spicy. We don't eat much ketchup in our house so we rarely have it, and I'm not about to go buy a bottle of ketchup just for one recipe. If you do have ketchup, feel free to use it to replace the sweetener (optional) and tomato paste.

This is a really easy recipe and great to have on your fingertips for those times when you open the fridge and don't know what to make or you have a bit of left over rice and don't know what to do with it.


(printable version)
Notes: Yes, I made that name up. As for the sweetener, honey, molasses, maple syrup, white, brown sugar are fine; they all work. I've also just left the sweetener out. I think a bit of Mirin would work nicely, if you have it. I use whatever vegetables I need to use up so take this recipe as a starting point.

Prep time: <5 min
Cooking time: 5-10 min
Servings: 1-2

1 tablespoon oil
small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 2-inch piece of zucchini, chopped
1 small carrot
1-2 savoy cabbage leaves, shredded
1-2 cups left-over quinoa (substitute rice or other grain)
2-3 tablespoon(s) tomato paste
approx. 1 teaspoon sweetener (optional, see note)
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper or chili powder
½ - 1 teaspoon soy sauce
salt & pepper
toasted sesame oil
2-4 eggs

Heat oil in medium skillet.
Add ginger and garlic. Heat until fragrant. Add vegetables. Fry until they start to brown. Add quinoa. Stir with a spatula or wooden spoon. When the quinoa starts to fry, add the tomato paste, sugar, cayenne pepper, soy sauce. Mix in well. Salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle with toasted sesame oil.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine eggs with a splash of milk. Scramble them lightly with a fork. Pour them into a hot, well-oiled, skillet. As you pour, move the pan back and forth, keeping the eggs moving over the bottom of the skillet. Then (I like to use a rubber spatula, but a fork is good) swirl the eggs constantly. Best results come from moving the pan and stirring all at the same time. When the eggs have set and are cooked to your liking, carefully tip the pan and slide them onto a plate.

Fill the omelet no more than half full with the quinoa mixture. Fold the omelet in half and arrange the remaining quinoa around the omelet.

The following version is good for a quick breakfast or big snack. 

Omu Rice Deconstructed
(printable version)
Notes: This is what I made for breakfast one day. Amounts are not really exact. Feel free to play around with them. As for the sweetener, honey, molasses, maple syrup, white, brown sugar are fine; they all work.
Prep time: <5 min
Cooking time: 5 min

small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
left-over quinoa (substitute rice or other grain)
1-2 eggs
olive or peanut oil
1-2 tablespoon(s) tomato paste
1 teaspoon sweetener (optional)
1-2 teaspoon(s) cayenne pepper (substitute chili powder)
Seasoning (some suggestions are salt & pepper, a pinch of Japanese green tea ground between your fingers, toasted & shredded nori, a sprinkle of soy sauce, or a mix of all of the above)


Heat oil in medium skillet.  Add quinoa. Stir with a spatula or wooden spoon. When it starts to fry, add the tomato paste and sugar. Add cayenne pepper. Mix in well. Add a pinch or two of crumbled Japanese green tea, salt & pepper to taste. When fried, put into a bowl.

In the same pan (add a bit of oil if necessary), cook ginger until fragrant, but not browned. Crack the individual eggs, keeping the yolk intact, over the ginger. Fry the egg. 

Top the fried quinoa with the fried egg. Sprinkle some blackened sesame seeds, a bit of toasted sesame oil, and toasted nori over the top. Voila! Breakfast is served.

If you liked this one, here are some other omuraise recipes on the web(warning: not all are vegetarian):

Just Hungry's Omuraisu
Just Bento's Special Occasion Omurice
Just Hungry's Tampopo Omuraisu

© 2011 Nicole

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