It’s hard to find a Japanese dish with a broader appeal than oyakodon. Part of the donburi (rice bowl) branch of Japanese cuisine, oyakodon consists of chicken and egg served over rice, with a sauce that’s both savory and sweet tying the whole thing together.
Because of how popular it is, oyakodon is one of the most common items on Japanese restaurants’ lunch menus. Even the most fundamental ideas had to start somewhere, though, and so we found ourselves wondering: what was the first restaurant in Japan to offer oyakodon? We were happy to find the answer, and even happier when we found out that not only is it located in Tokyo, it’s still in business.
Tamahide is in downtown Tokyo’s Ningyocho neighborhood, and its entrance looks sort of like a castle or samurai estate. That’s fitting, though, since Tamahide was founded in the 10th year of Japan’s Horeki, or 1760 by Western reckoning, when Japan was still ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate dynasty.
It wasn’t until over a hundred years later, though, that Tamahide began officially serving oyakodon. See, the restaurant was started as, and still remains, a hot pot specialist, with shamo (gamecock) hot pot being its premiere dish. However, in the late 1800s, the wife of Tamahide’s fifth-generation owner noticed how some diners would take the last remaining remnants of their hot pot, pour it over a bowl of white rice, and mix it with egg. Figuring that if customers liked it enough to make it themselves, the restaurant may as well save them the trouble, and in 1891, the 20th year of the Meiji era, Tamahide’s chefs prepared their first oyakodon.
In the modern era, Tamahide divides its dining into two floors, with oyakodon on the ground level and hot pot, set meals, and full courses on the second. Being an important part of Japanese culinary history, there’s often a line, and we ended up waiting about 15 minutes for a seat when we stopped by at around 1 p.m. on a weekday afternoon.
A menu board out front lists the myriad oyakodon options, and customers are asked to place their order and pay for a meal ticket before being seated. Figuring that if we’d come all the way to the birthplace of the oyakodon, we may as well splurge for the top-of-the-line example, we settled on the 3,000-yen oyakodon that the restaurant calls the “Gokui.”
Eventually we were ushered inside and a waitress brought us some green tea and also a cup of chicken broth. The broth was flavorful and had a clean finish, but as we waited for our oyakodon itself, we started to feel a little nervous. After all, you can get oyakodon in cheap Tokyo restaurants for 1,000 yen or less, so Tamahide’s Gokui is a pretty big step up in price.
But like we said, you pay in advance at Tamahide, so there was no chickening out now. We sipped a little more broth, and before long the server returned with our oyakodon, which was hidden inside a bowl topped with a beautiful lid.
Since oyakodon is made with chicken and egg, the primary color impression is usually yellow. When we took the lid off, though...
…we saw that the Gokui shines as a sea of gold, glistening under the restaurant’s interior lights like a beacon signaling our stomach.
For its meat, the Gokui uses high-quality Tokyo shamo, and you get three different cuts: breast, thigh, and tender. Grasping a morsel in our chopsticks, we took a bite and were greeted with a texture with an ever-so-slightly firm outer edge and amazing tenderness underneath, producing a delicious, juicy sensation as we chewed.
The egg has a melty consistency that wraps around your tongue, providing a wonderful accompaniment to each mouthful of chicken or rice.
Customers ordering the Gokui also get a special treat that’s exclusive to the top-tier oyakodon, in that it comes with another egg, this one from the ukkokei (Silky Fowl) breed, that you can dip the chicken in for even more rich decadence.
So in the end, is the Gokui worth its eye-popping price? We’d have to say yes. Sure, it’s outside our everyday lunch budget, but it’s also one of the best oyakodon we’ve ever had, plus a piece of edible history, and if 3,000 yen is still a bit too much for you, its less expensive oyakodon start at 1,800 yen, which will save you a little cash if you’re also looking to hit up Japan’s oldest tempura restaurant, which is also in Tokyo and still in business, for dinner.
Tamahide / 玉ひで
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyo-cho 1-17-10
Oyakodon served between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
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