Westernized Japanese food, or Japanified Western food? There’s no good answer to this seemingly odd question. But, whatever the answer, the food that’s typically served at old school Japanese kissaten, or coffee shops, has become a distinct cuisine unto its own in Japanese culture. There is a name for it, yoshoku (洋食) or western food, which doesn’t come close to describing the unique amalgam. When Japan’s national seclusion was banned during the Meiji Period, the food of many Western cultures found their way onto the tables of Japan’s restaurants and households, and have since embedded themselves into the fabric of national identity. As with many foreign things however, evolution has caused these dishes to change to suit the Japanese palate.
I’m fairly obsessed with eating yoshoku dishes. Not just for their great cultural and historical significance, but really, uh, they taste awesome. Japanese curry, tonkatsu fried pork cutlet, hayashi rice (rich hashed beef stew) just to name a few. And often, I find myself surrounded by elderly Japanese and businessmen when I eat at kissaten, sometimes enveloped by a layer of their cigarette smoke. You see, it’s the nostalgia for the old days, the heyday of kissaten where you could get a fashionable meal and the day’s news and gossip all in one visit.
One of my favorite dishes is Omurice, short for omelet rice, and there are several incarnations. I’ve always had it in the way of a fluffy egg omelet surrounding a filling of ketchup- fried rice (usually with chicken or pork). It wasn’t until recently that I tried a version with the omelet perched atop a mound of ketchup-fried rice. You ask, well what’s better about this? Well, the difference is obvious when you cut into the omelet. Piercing the omelet “skin” reveals the creamiest of runny egg innards you can imagine, a river of large egg curds, if you will. And might I add, this is the proper way to eat it. Release the eggs to spread over the rice, and happily spoon away.
For egg purists, there is nothing quite like the taste and texture of creamy runny eggs, with just a hint of salt. That’s me in a nutshell, so naturally, I’m drawn to omurice dishes wherever I can find it. In Higashi Ginza, next to the Kabuki Theatre, is a kissaten with over 40 years of history, frequented over the years by kabuki actors and the literati elite. Kissa You is a coffee shop where you can find one of the best representations of old school omurice in Tokyo.
The omurice lunch set is the way to go if you are aiming to attain egg nirvana. The set includes a choice of hot coffee or tea, which is brought out after the meal. We were seated in the retro dining area with original red velvet covered chairs. The omurice arrived before us quivering, literally, from the runny eggs inside.
With the slightest touch of my spoon, I broke in.
Well folks, that’s a whole lot of whipped eggs and heavy cream. You may scoff at the generous use of a lowbrow condiment like ketchup. But, it works. Without its tanginess to cut the richness of the eggs, one would be hard pressed to make it through the whole plate.
Although this was quite good, I still prefer a version called Hayashi omurice, with a generous “sauce” of rich beef stew over omurice, that tastes like demi-glace.
Kissa You’s lunch menu is below:
For the next visit, the Omelet Sando (egg omelet sandwich) is a must. You’s version comes with fluffy omelet sandwiched between thick slices of white bread, with the crusts trimmed off.
Kissa You, Ginza 4-13-17, Tokyo
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-3pm / 3pm-8:30pm daily