The great thing about egg rice is that it’s hardly cooking. If you can fry an egg, then you can make egg rice.
Every two weeks, Christina Dang buys a carton of 18 eggs from the Costco near her home in San Diego. Most of these eggs go into a snack she makes for herself when she comes home from work: egg rice. She fries a single egg sunny-side up and places it on a small plate of leftover jasmine rice. Then, over the yolk, she pours a little Maggi sauce, a dark, savory potion of wheat protein. For Dang, who is a pharmacist, there’s a ritual to eating this simple but potent dish, one she has upheld since she was young. She breaks the yolk and mixes the Maggi into it, creating a makeshift gravy that drapes the rice in eggy gold. She pierces her fork straight down into the food, so she has an even distribution of Maggi-tinged yolk, crisp-edged egg white and steamed white rice, fluffy as a fresh-raked pile of leaves, on her tines. “I eat this at least once a day,” she told me.
The great thing about egg rice is that it’s hardly cooking. If you can fry an egg, then you can make egg rice. And it’s filling but not too filling, perfect for that weird in-between pause after work and before dinner, when you’re so hungry you can’t imagine how you’ll even make it to dinner, let alone cook it.
Growing up, Dang never thought much of this snack. It was just something her mother whipped up for her and her baby sister on busy mornings. But when she left her home in Orange County, Calif., for grad school in Baltimore, she started to miss it. “It’s one of the first things I learned to make on my own,” she says. Eggs and rice were already grocery staples for her, so all she had to do was locate the Maggi, that slim-necked dream of a bottle with an iconic red cap, which she found at a small store in the city. “The store didn’t even have a name — it just said ‘Asian Mart,’” Dang says. Finding this bottle was a huge comfort to her, a taste of home, and her mother’s Vietnamese cooking.
Many cultures have some variation of egg rice. It’s one of those dishes that you don’t really talk about because it’s so basic: fried eggs, white rice and something for seasoning. In South Korea, it’s called gyeran bap, which translates to “egg rice,” featuring soy sauce, sesame oil and often a touch of butter. In Japan, it’s tamago kake gohan (“egg over rice”), but in that version, the egg is cracked raw into a bowl of fresh, hot white rice, then fluffed with chopsticks into a creamy, comforting wonder. An Indonesian variation, nasi telur ceplok (“fried egg served over rice”), uses kecap manis, a molasses-thick sweet soy sauce. Puerto Rican arroz a caballo (“rice on horseback”) often features corned beef. Egg rice is kind of like a coffee order; everyone does it a little different. Some say they top theirs with furikake, scallions or chile crisp. The novelist Alexander Chee told me that his father used to make egg rice for him with the fried egg on the bottom and the fresh rice, straight out of the rice cooker, on top. “It was the only thing he could cook,” Chee said. That and fried vienna sausages.
Patrick Faloon, a scientist in Cambridge, Mass., cooks two eggs over easy and eats them with Kokuho Rose sushi rice sprinkled with everything-bagel seasoning. “As a single guy, I’d always have leftover rice, and cooking up a couple of eggs was quick for a weeknight meal,” he said. The inclusion of the seasoning happened naturally: “I figured it had sesame seeds so it should work, but the dried onion and salt definitely added more flavor than I expected. Also, adding it at the last minute gave a little texture.” It was about five years ago when Faloon discovered the combo, slowly building on it over time, depending on what he had in his pantry and fridge. These days, he piles on kimchi and roasted vegetables.
My mother used to fry the eggs in vegetable oil, cracking the yolk and flipping the egg so everything cooked through. Glistening white on matte yellow, fried eggs in our house always went with rice. But egg rice is one of those dishes that grows with you. As I got older and started making it for myself, I found that frying the eggs sunny-side up in a little butter meant that the butter had a chance to brown, adding that characteristic nuttiness, and the yolks stayed rich and runny, which I now prefer. Later, I learned that a dribble of soy sauce added directly to the pan gave the sauce a chance to bubble up and caramelize, creating a salty pool for the eggs to cook in, the whites puffing up and staining at their edges. You can fry eggs in almost anything, like sesame oil, ghee and even cream, but butter and soy sauce is a divine combination. A final shower of gim — roasted seaweed — amps up the umami in each bite. A single five-gram packet will do.
When Dang was pregnant, her doctor told her she had to stop eating runny egg yolks. This was more difficult for her than giving up caffeine or even carrying the baby, who is now 5 months old. “I thought about it every day,” she says. “It was the first thing I made for myself when I came home from the hospital. I was like, ‘I need a runny yolk, and I need it now.’”
Recipe: Gyeran Bap (Egg Rice)