Half Recipes Between Parent and Child: A Recipe for Kodomo-Don
I call it 子供丼 (kodomo-don), because it is only egg over rice. Something about it is simple, one rank lower in maturity than an adult dish.
This is Half Recipes , a narrative recipe column by Nina Coomes on what it means to feed and care for yourself and those you love.
– 2 eggs
– half a sweet onion, sliced
– 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
– 2 tablespoons of mirin
– 2 tablespoons of dashi powder
– nori, slivered
– 1/2 cup of water
– 1 teaspoon of neutral oil (vegetable or corn oil is best)
– leftover rice
1. Crack two eggs into a bowl. Do not whisk them. Using a pair of chopsticks (or a fork, I guess), trace a Z shape in the bowl. Do this once, twice, three times. The eggs will break up and meld, but not completely. You’re looking for an amalgam of yolk and white, blended but still distinct. Set the eggs aside for a while; they will cook better in the hot pan at room temperature.
2. I hate eggs. Or rather, I hated them. As a kid, my aversion to eggs was so strong that I avoided omelets, scrambles, eggy custards. Even now, I don’t like saying the word ‘egg’ that much, to be honest.
Last week, my mother and I got into an argument about eggs. Well, it wasn’t so much an argument as it was a scuffle, and it wasn’t so much about eggs as it was about decorum. In my hometown of Nagoya, there is a tradition of coffee shops offering a complimentary half-slice of buttered toast and a boiled egg along with each cup of coffee. “Morning,” as this free breakfast is called because it is only available for patrons who visit coffee shops in the morning, is a custom I love. I am delighted by the hospitality, moved by the little pockets of regulars who show up for their daily breakfast. I also revel in the fluffy height of a tall piece of butter-golden shoku-pan (milk bread). The only thing that gives me pause is the ubiquitous boiled egg.
I said that I hated eggs. Let me expand by saying I abhor boiled eggs. Though I’ve mostly grown out of my overall egg aversion, I will not eat a boiled egg. Truly, if I can avoid looking at one, I will. Nothing baffles me so much as a potato salad ruined by the presence of a chopped egg. I don’t even want to talk about the bafflement of a deviled egg (reconstituted boiled egg, stuffed inside of another boiled egg??). A logical part of me regrets this dislike; in theory, a boiled egg is such a perfect, portable unit of protein! But on this point, my heart and stomach refuse to budge.
On Nagoya mornings, this means I usually take the offered boiled egg home and give it to someone who might enjoy it. Last week, I tried something new. I ordered my coffee and toast and told the waitress that she could hold the egg; I didn’t want it. This caused an immediate scuffle. My mother started to protest, saying that was a waste of an egg and she would take it home, which caused the waitress to scoff that they didn’t allow people to take eggs home, which then upset my mother, because what was this new-fangled café doing, not letting people take their eggs home? My mother—who loves eggs—ended up taking one for the team and eating two eggs for breakfast.
3. Slice your half-onion into thin half-moons. Try for quarter-inch slices. Taking the time to cut your onion evenly and carefully will cut down on the amount of time you need to spend simmering the slices.
In my frying pan, around the handles of my knives, furled in the nest of my spoon is a connection between mother and daughter.
Forgive the brag, but I have excellent knife skills. I can dice, chop, mince, or julienne just about anything. I don’t see the point of a food processor or a garlic press, because not only am I good at cutting things, I enjoy the process. There’s something mediative and satisfying about breaking something down with a knife. My knife skills are the result of a summer many years ago, when my sister and I were in Japan with our mother. I must have been a freshman in high school, my sister in middle school. We had been in Japan for a month or so, and had two months to go. We were bored, and my mother, looking for free, educational activities, set a cutting board and knife in front of us and gave us a pickled plum to chop. “Mince this into a paste,” she instructed, and so we did. That summer we practiced cutting all sorts of vegetables, piercing the dinosaur-like skin of bumpy kabocha, slicing cucumbers into matchsticks, skinning potatoes with the sharp corner of a knife. (For the record, my sister also has magnificent knife skills, perhaps even better than mine.
4. Put a small pan on the stove and turn the burner to medium heat. Add a drizzle of neutral oil, roughly a teaspoon, and swirl to coat the pan. When the pan is hot, add your onions. Cook, stirring regularly, until onions are translucent.
5. I was sitting on the patio of my local bar back home in Chicago when I overheard a group of white people talking about a recipe they had recently mastered. “It’s called oyako-don!” one said to the other, butchering the pronunciation. “It’s made with eggs and chicken and literally means parent and child over rice!” The group burst into laughter and I crossed and uncrossed my feet, trying to decide if I found this exchange irksome or funny. I still haven’t decided, but it’s true that oyako-don uses the word 親子 (oyako), meaning parent and child, a poetic reference to the relationship between the chicken meat and eggs used to top a donburi (rice bowl). In the same manner, a donburi topped with salmon and roe can also be called oyakodon, because again salmon and roe have a similar parent-child relationship.
What I am making today is not oyako-don, because there is no chicken in the recipe. Instead, I call it 子供丼 (kodomo-don), because it is only egg over rice. Something about it is simple, one rank lower in maturity than an adult dish that involves handling raw chicken. It’s gentle in taste, something I make when I’m tired, perhaps when I miss my mother.
6. While your onions are cooking, measure out 1/3 cup of water. Add two tablespoons of soy sauce, two tablespoons of mirin, and one tablespoon of dashi powder. Dip your pinky finger into taste. If it’s too salty, add dashes of water until palatable. If it’s too sweet, add a bit more soy sauce. For me, this concentrated sweet-salty-savory flavor is the simple sort of flavor I crave when exhausted, when I have no bandwidth for subtlety or finesse.
7. Add the water-soy-mirin-dashi mixture to your onions and turn down the heat, allowing them to braise for three minutes or so.
(Note: For this recipe, I use an egg pan , which is much smaller than the average saucepan, to get more height in my eggs. If you are using a saucepan and find that this amount of water dissipates too quickly when you add it to your onions, double the amount of water, soy sauce, mirin, and dashi, essentially pooling enough liquid such that it doesn’t evaporate immediately.)
8. As the onions simmer in the sweet-savory liquid, flood the pan with the eggs you set aside earlier. Do not scramble or agitate them—they will set in the hot, braising liquid, creating an onion-studded custardy blanket, like a soft omelet. Double-check that your heat is on low so you don’t scorch the bottom. The preference of how done your eggs are is up to you. I like to wait till the eggs are no longer liquid, where they are completely set but there is still braising liquid in the pan. If you are using good-quality eggs, a softer set is probably fine, too.
I see in this preparation of kodomo-don, a food my younger self would have found impossible, my own growth and change.
When, exactly, did I learn to love some preparations of eggs? If I think carefully, the answer is: upon leaving home. Somewhere in the years of preparing meals for myself, I learned to appreciate the ease of a scramble. I found that if I whipped an egg together, mixing the yolk and white together well, I avoided the dramatic difference in textures and sulfurous smell I disliked. Wandering New York’s Chinatown with a dear friend, I discovered that egg tarts are squidgy and delicious. On a business lunch, I found that the fried egg nestled on a sandwich I ordered wasn’t so bad—perhaps not what I would have chosen, but edible. I fell in love with a man who makes a mean mushroom omelet, which I now want to eat at least every other weekend. Retiring my childish hatred of (most) eggs is something that came with adulthood or leaving my mother’s kitchen.
9. As the eggs set, microwave your leftover rice in a deep bowl. (I suppose you could make fresh rice for this recipe, but I generally end up eating kodomo-don on days I forget to eat breakfast and need an early lunch, which is to say on days I don’t have the foresight to make fresh rice.)
10. Once the eggs are finished, turn off the heat and slide them from the pan onto your hot rice. Top with slivered nori or green onions. Shichimi-togarashi can also add a nice kick here. Sit down somewhere comfortable and dig in with a spoon.
To cook, to feed myself, is an inheritance. If I look closely, in nearly everything I cook there is a trace of my mother. My enthusiasm for topping most anything with a sprig of something green, my insistence that one should take the time to slice an onion carefully—these are remnants of things I learned while watching her cook. In my frying pan, around the handles of my knives, furled in the nest of my spoon is a connection between mother and daughter, between her and me.
It is a little bittersweet to reflect on the growth of my palate outside of my childhood home. Like realizing, in a new apartment far from home, that for the first time in my life my parents and sister didn’t know what my bedroom looked like. I was a kid who couldn’t stand eggs. I am now an adult who can manage them; crave them, even. I see in this preparation of kodomo-don, a food my younger self would have found impossible to eat, my own growth and change. I know that change is necessary, often good. Still, sometimes I find myself feeling nostalgic for a time when such a meal would never have passed my lips. Would that little girl be proud of me now? Would she stick out her tongue and scrunch her nose? Or would she pause, would she consider, would she tentatively take a bite?