Ingredients commonly used in a classic British breakfast fry-up or Aussie breakfast sandwich actually comprise one of Asia's most well-known comfort dishes that is called "tomatoes and eggs".
Hello, tomato-and-egg dinner at my house and billions of households around the world for Chinese, Cantonese and Taiwanese families. So popular is this recipe that it does not even have a proper name. It's just 'tomatoes and eggs', the same name in Mandarin.
Juicy hot cherry tomatoes pop in your mouth with just a hint of basil for sweetness. When both mingle with creamy baked eggs, it’s an amazing combination of texture and flavour that makes for very happy tastebuds. You can serve these eggs for breakfast or brunch, but I’d eat them for dinner any day. I highly recommend serving the eggs with a side of polenta fries to soak up all the juicy goodness.
My memories and affection for my mum's tomato and egg (番茄炒蛋) recipe is one of adoration and comfort. It has always been a favourite of mine. My mum would make it on a whim if she felt there was not enough food on the table (despite having seven dishes already on the table), or if one of my aunties or uncles turned up unexpectedly for dinner. It is your ultimate dish for comfort and even to quash unexpected late-night munchies.
In Mandarin, there is a phrase: xia fan (下飯), which loosely means 'well with rice'. This tomato-and-egg rice is the perfect xia fan dish. When I asked my mum why she made this dish so regularly and why Chinese families all know about it, her answer was simple: 'xia fan'.
What my mum means is, you can easily go through two or three bowls of rice with this tomato-and-egg dish. It is filling, nourishing and delicious and that's what makes it so perfect. The simplicity of the dish perplexes me somewhat as the recipe circulates among social media food influencers. The recipe is always 'trending', so much so that even large publications like The New York Times have it online, as well as some US chefs who have garnered a cult following with their versions of it, like Lucas Sin.
For many Asian-Aussies, the tomato and egg dish is also loved by celebrities. Fellow SBS food writer, Hetty McKinnon has shared her own take on the dish with SBS Food. While McKinnon's version is fused with the North African-Middle Eastern dish shakshuka, this shows there is no rule for how to enjoy, interpret or serve the tomato-and-egg dish.
Jowett Yu, a chef in my most recent book, Chefs Collective, remembers eating the dish on a weekly basis. "It brings me back to my childhood," says the chef and father, who now cooks it for his son. "It was a dish that was a part of my mum's weekly repertoire. It is easy to make and the kids love it for its sweet and acidic [flavours]. It exemplifies the best of Chinese home cooking."
"It exemplifies the best of Chinese home cooking."
Chef Archan Chan shares my view too and serves her tomato and egg recipe with rice in its traditional glory. Her dish features eggs scrambled, tomatoes slightly stewed and slightly sweet and sour in taste. When Archan and I chatted over the dish, her words said it all: "Very tasty dish". I have to agree. The three words might not paint a full picture but us Asian kids know what she means when she says "tasty".
Chan says, "My grandma cooks the egg-like omelette in the wok so it's nice and charred. Then she will cook the tomatoes with ketchup, water and sugar, and then add the egg back in the end so the egg could absorb the sweet and sour sauce, [before] finishing with some spring onions."
She adds, "I guess the popularity of the dish is that it is available everywhere in Hong Kong food courts and the dish uses ingredients on hand.
"It seems easy [enough], however, it is uneasy to cook to perfection, meaning to get the perfect balance of the sauce and texture of the egg."
My own recipe does not use tomato sauce because my mum never did. I tried it once when I had just one tomato in my fridge and a dozen eggs, but I couldn't help but compare it to canned spaghetti. Chan's tomato-and-egg recipe does perhaps include ketchup because of her Hong Kong background. Hong Kong was influenced by British colonisation and consists of many westernised Asian dishes like macaroni and ham soup.
We do, however, agree on one thing. Tomatoes and eggs have the ultimate xia fan factor. "The sauce could make you eat a bowl of rice...easily," says Chan. Completely agree with you there, Chan.
This nourishing bowl is filled with rice, tender five spiced-rubbed duck, and a rich sauce based on Oolong tea. The aromatic combination is balanced with steamed greens.