Tokyo’s popular Taimeiken restaurant does omurice right
In a Charlie Chaplin-inspired scene from the cult-classic Japanese film “Tampopo,” a homeless man sneaks into a restaurant kitchen after hours to whip up a fluffy, expertly prepared omelet served atop a delicious-looking mound of ketchup-tinted fried rice.
The dish, called omurice — an amalgam of “omelet” and “rice” — has made countless viewers’ stomachs growl ever since the food-centric comedy from director Juzo Itami debuted in 1985.
Tampopo omurice, the signature selection at Tokyo’s Taimeiken restaurant, which was featured in the movie, has become one of the most sought-after plates of omurice in the world. The scene was filmed in Taimeiken’s second-floor kitchen, and owner-chef Masaaki Modegi’s hands can be seen in close-up shots.
This popular, somewhat pricey restaurant in the Nihonbashi business district near Tokyo Station specializes in yoshoku cuisine — Japan’s take on Western-style food that popped up after 1868 when the Meiji emperor lifted a ban on Western culture. Yoshoku includes hamburger steak, Japan’s take on meatloaf; katsu, a breaded and fried pork cutlet; and various spaghetti incarnations.
Taimeiken offers several incarnations of omurice — beef and prawn, for example — but its Tampopo version (1,950 yen, or about $17.60) is by far the most popular item on the menu, which offers instructions in English for how to eat it: Slice the omelet lengthwise down the center to reveal its creamy, soft-cooked interior (if you prefer well-done eggs, this dish might not be for you). Open the omelet from the middle, letting it envelope the rice. Top it with the sauce of your choice — ketchup or demi-glace — and enjoy.
The perfectly cooked rice, stained pink from a dollop of ketchup added during frying, is prepared with sizable pieces of tasty chicken; however, the delectable eggs remain the star of this melt-in-your-mouth masterpiece.
Taimeiken also serves old-fashioned plain, ham and tomato and asparagus omelets (1,350-1,600 yen), spaghetti and seafood dishes (1,400-2,000 yen) and rice concoctions (highlights include the curry with pork cutlet for 1,350 yen and hashed beef with rice for 1,980 yen).
Beef lovers can choose hamburger steak, beef cutlet, beef and tongue stews, filet and sirloin steak (2,380-3,180 yen). Ramen costs between 750 and 1,000 yen, and the eatery also offers “specialty small dishes,” coleslaw and Borscht (50 yen each).
Beverage options include draft and bottled beers (700-1,050 yen), wine (650 yen per glass) and the usual sodas, juices, coffees and teas (500-650 yen).
The only desserts offered are vanilla and green-tea ice cream (500 yen).
Customer service in Japan is usually top notch, and Taimeiken is no exception. My waitress, who greeted me with a smile and an English menu, appeared to beam with pride when she served my meal.
Fair warning: Be sure to arrive early if you don’t want to wait. Lines regularly wrap around the building during lunchtime.
For customers who crave a more upscale experience — and shorter wait times — Taimeiken offers a second-story dining area with tasteful, cottage-like decor but much more expensive prices.
Location: 1-12-10 Nihonbashi, Chuo, Tokyo
Hours: Open most days between noon to 9 p.m. with last order at 8:30 p.m.
Prices: Tampopo omurice, the restaurant’s most popular dish, costs 1,950 yen (about $17.60).
Directions: About a 10-minute walk from Tokyo Station.
Information: 03-3271-2464; taimeiken.co.jp