Updated: May 20, 2020
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Tamago Kake Gohan (Raw Egg Over Rice) + Is It Safe to Eat Raw Eggs?

One of the simplest Japanese comfort foods is called 'tamago kake gohan' (卵かけご飯)and consists of a raw egg cracked over a bowl of white rice. Eating raw eggs might seem strange to some, but it's actually safe to do in Japan (see below for details).

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What is Tamago Kake Gohan?

Tamago (egg) kake (put on top) gohan (rice) is a simple Japanese dish that is typically made at home as an easy breakfast or light meal. A fresh egg is cracked into a bowl of rice, desired seasonings are added, and (optionally) everything is mixed together before eating. Some people prefer to remove the egg white and add just the yolk to the bowl, while others put everything in.
Mixing everything together
The umami from the egg yolk and the saltiness from the soy sauce combine to make a delicious and satisfying meal that is also extremely cheap! It's easy to make and is a comfort food for many Japanese people.

Is it Safe to Eat Raw Eggs?

In most countries, it's not a good idea to eat raw eggs! The reason is salmonella bacteria, which sometimes infects the intestinal tracts of chickens and can end up on an egg's shell or even in the egg itself if the bacteria were present while the egg was being formed. If this bacteria is ingested, it can cause an unpleasant sickness that lasts for days, and in rare cases has been fatal.

In Japan, however, eating raw eggs is okay. Why?
As opposed to most other countries, where it's assumed that eggs will be cooked before being eaten, in Japan, it's assumed that eggs will be consumed raw. To this end, stringent standards are in place to maintain a level of hygiene within egg-producing facilities that prevents most chickens from becoming infected with salmonella in the first place.
On top of this, once the eggs are laid, they are washed, disinfected (commonly with UV light), and inspected via a variety of tests to search for dirt, cracks, and other abnormalities. Most facilities run their eggs down a winding course of various conveyor belts that pass each egg through several different tests.

Check out this video of just one of the tests:
The entire process of maintaining cleanliness in the coop and passing the eggs through a rigorous series of inspections results in eggs that are clean and perfectly safe to be consumed raw. Another thing that you might notice when purchasing a pack of Japanese eggs is that the expiration date is very short (usually about 2 weeks from production) when compared with eggs sold in other countries, which commonly have use-by dates of up to 2 months after the eggs were produced. This ensures that the eggs are eaten when fresh, which adds an additional layer of safety.

Ways to Eat Tamago Kake Gohan

Everyone has their own preferred way to eat tamago kake gohan, and there are really no rules when it comes to the dish! White rice, egg, and soy sauce is the most basic combination, but here are a few popular variations.

Natto Tamago Kake Gohan

Tamago kake gohan with natto
Natto is fermented soybeans, and it has its own unique flavor and slimy texture that is either loved or hated. It is commonly eaten on top of rice anyway, but adding an egg gives the dish a lovely boost of umami that is simply delicious.

With Aonori or Furikake

Tamago kake gohan with aonori
The tamago kake gohan shown above has been mixed quite thoroughly and sprinkled with some 'aonori,' a kind of powdered seaweed. This is a common topping, as are other kinds of 'furikake' (flavor sprinkles).

Other Toppings

Tamago kake gohan with shirasu
Pretty much anything that tastes nice with an egg is fair game for tamago kake gohan. The bowl above was made with 'shirasu,' which are tasty immature fish (whitebait). Get creative when making your own tamago kake gohan!

In Closing

Eating raw eggs may take a little getting used to, but once you do, you might never want to fry an egg again! Just make sure you're not eating raw eggs outside of Japan, as that could be dangerous.

If you're curious to try tamago kake gohan at a restaurant, check out a place called 'Kisaburo Nojo,' which lets you compare 8 different kinds of specialty eggs!
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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