Sometime back, I can’t remember exactly when, I was told that the art of making tamagoyaki is the true litmus test to the “greatness” of a sushi chef. There are many things which a good sushi chef needs to master, i.e. his fish handling skills, his knife work, his sushi rice clasping technique, down to the proper way of toasting nori sheets… but a truly great sushi chef has to know his tamagoyaki well too! Well, I didn’t really buy it then. I mean… “how difficult could making tamagoyaki be?” I told myself. It was not until I attempted to make tamagoyaki on my own did I realise that yes indeed… not the easiest thing to do for sure. To make something which “looks like” tamagoyaki is manageable but to get all the ticks in texture, taste, colour, level of moisture, presentation etc… definitely requires quite a bit of dexterity. So this post is basically a little documentation of my experiments with the famed Japanese egg omelette (that is “omelet” for you guys in the US). I’ve not perfected it yet… no where near yet in fact.
The Taiwanese know their Japanese food really well. Yes you heard me right. Apart from Tokyo or Osaka, most if not all of my best Japanese meals were in Taipei. The Taiwanese are such “nipponophiles” (if there is ever such a word) that they have achieved a certain of specialisation, be it the traditional art of mochi, sushi or oden making, to replicating the concept of Japanese bakeries and boulangeries in their entirety.
But the Taiwanese are far from being mere copycats. The island nation being subjected to Japanese colonial rule for the longest time outside Japan itself, allowed an almost complete inheritance of not merely the superficial but in-depth transposition of cultural practices. Needless to say, this bore an ingrained effect on their culinary and dietary profile as well. During our last trip to Taipei, we’d visited 肥前屋 Unadon Speciality Shop. It is a small restaurant, complete with wooden sliding doors for that authentic rustic feel, most known for their unadon, also known as unagi don, which is short for “unagi kabayaki donburi”. The best unadons we’d seen were probably in Kyoto. But the rendition served up in this little deli in the heart of Taipei is pretty wicked as well, but only for a fraction of the price.