Egg Foo Yung: the Chinese Omelet

Perfect for Breakfast or a Main Meal

Egg Foo Yung
Flickr CC 2.0

Egg Foo Yung is a Chinese egg omelet. The name is Cantonese and means "hibiscus egg." Egg Foo Yung (also spelled Egg Foo Young and Egg Fu Yung) is made with beaten eggs and most often ham, but--as with the omelet we are all familiar with--a variety of meats and seafood as well as vegetables can also be added. What makes it distinct from the French omelet is that Egg Foo Yung is often served with a brown sauce.

Egg Foo Yung Origins

Although the French coined the term omelet in the 16th century, various incarnations of egg “pancakes” filled with meat or vegetables and seasonings have existed since ancient times. (And the dish ancient Persians feasted upon probably bore more resemblance to Egg Foo Yung than the classic French omelet.)

While Egg Foo Yung was born in American Chinese restaurants in the mid-1800s, its inspiration likely comes from Shanghai cuisine. Fu Yung Egg Slices is an elaborate Shanghai recipe made with beaten egg whites and minced ham, possibly named for the lotus flower. A northern Chinese version replaces the ham with minced chicken breast. From these dishes came the Egg Foo Yung some of us may remember enjoying in Chinese-American restaurants throughout the 1950s and 1960s--a deep-fried pancake filled with eggs, vegetables and meat or seafood. Today, homemade Egg Foo Yung is normally pan-fried instead.

Egg Foo Yung Cooking Tips

All it takes is a few eggs, crisp vegetables and Asian seasonings to create an elegant dish that is perfect for breakfast, a main entrée or late-night snack. The key is to use your imagination when choosing fillings. There are no hard and fast rules about what ingredients go into Egg Foo Yung: Chinese sausage, barbecued pork, shrimp and even tofu are all popular.

For vegetables, mushrooms, onion and green onion are frequently used. For some people, it wouldn’t be egg foo yung without lots of crunchy mung bean sprouts! But there are a few tips to follow to achieve the fluffiest and tastiest Egg Foo Yung: 

  • Lightly beat the eggs, but not enough so that bubbles form.
  • Thinly slice the meat and vegetables for more even cooking.
  • To coax more flavor out of the vegetables, blanch or stir-fry before adding to the egg mixture, even if the recipe doesn't call for it. Make sure the blanched vegetables are well drained.
  • Do not add the other ingredients to the egg in the pan. Instead, mix them together with the egg before cooking.
  • Make sure the pan is hot enough so that the egg mixture cooks properly.
  • Form the eggs into small pancakes or one large pancake.
  • For extra flavor, prepare a sauce: Egg Foo Yung is one of the few Chinese dishes where a sauce is prepared separately and served over it. The brown sauce that frequently accompanies beef with broccoli works well with this dish. If making a sauce, prepare it first and keep warm while cooking the Egg Foo Yung.

Egg Foo Yung Recipes

All of these recipes have a simple accompanying sauce/gravy that is easy to make and delicious with the omelet, but you can leave it out if you wish.

 Stir-fried Egg Foo Yung is a hearty dish with Chinese sausage (lop cheong) and vegetables. In this recipe for restaurant-style Egg Fu Yung, the Egg Fu Yung is deep-fried, giving it a light and airy texture. For the option of deep- or pan-frying, the author of this Egg Foo Yung recipe shows you how to use the same ingredients to cook the omelet either way.