03: The Japanese Fast Food “Donburi”

Writer: Tamaki Kashiwagi

Contrary to the common notions of many non-Japanese, “Sushi”, “Tempura” and “Sukiyaki” are “feasts” for Japanese, and we eat them on special occasions only. Then what do we eat daily? I would say it’s “Donburi”. Donburi literally means “a bowl” and all the meals served in a bowl. In Donburi, the rice and its toppings are served in one. One of the typical Donburi meals is “Tendon”, the Tempura on rice (it is the short form of “Tempura-Donburi”). “Gyudon” is another popular dish, which is served with beef Sukiyaki on rice (“gyu” means beef in Japanese). Donburi has many more variations (Oyakodon, Katsudon, Chukadon, Unadon, etc.).


Why are they so popular among Japanese? There are three reasons. First, they can be eaten fast. You eat hamburger and hamburger steak and bread. Which can you eat faster? Moreover, Donburi is served so fast in a restaurant in Japan. It takes only minutes after your order because the toppings are readily cooked, and all we need is to put them on rice. Many workaholic Japanese spend only 5-6 minutes from they step in a restaurant until they walk away from it. Can you believe it? Secondly, Donburi is usually cheap because Donburi is originally a food for the working class Japanese. You can find Donburi at 3-4 US dollars in a casual Donburi restaurant, although some Donburi, as Tendon or Unadon can be as high as 30 dollars. Finally, they are delicious! For me, the secret of Donburi is the sauce of toppings. The sauce contains the flavor of meat, fish or vegetables and is mixed with rice underneath in Donburi. Nothing can be better than this combination.


Obsession of Japanese “salary-men” (workers) over “Gyudon”

Nowadays, Donburi has become the food for both white and blue collars workers in Japan. Probably, the most popular among many Donburi is “Gyudon”. When you have a chance to go to Japan, you will witness our “obsession” for Gyudon. So many Japanese (especially the male) love Gyudon so much that it sometimes become a big sad news on TV and newspapers every time the price of Gyudon increases in popular Gyudon restaurants. It’s crazy, isn’t it? You would never hear a report on TV or newspapers when the prices of Pizza Hut or KFC increase. That’s how much Gyudon is important for Japanese and how peaceful the Japan is without many violent news!!


Gyudon can be prepared easily even outside Japan because its main ingredients can be available at a regular supermarket in many countries. In recent years, Japanese Kobe beef become famous around the world, but you don’t need such fancy beef. No Gyudon restaurants in Japan use Kobe beef. They use American or Aussie beef because they are more suitable for the dish without much fats. When you cook Gyudon, put water, soy sauce, sugar, red wine and sliced onions in pan. Boil them and put the thinly sliced beef and simmer for about 1 minute. Finally top it on rice in a bowl. That’s it! Many Japanese use sake and mirin (sweet sake) instead of sugar and wine, but I heard that Japanese a famous Gyudon restaurant chain also use red wine. The key is the thickness of beef. It must be paper thin, thinner than a cold cut, to extract the best flavor and mix well with the sause. Try to order it at a meat store. If you have a meat cutter at home, freeze the beef before cutting so that it can be as thin


Gyudon Ingredients

Steamed rice  300g

Sliced beef       200g
Onion      1/2~1
Water     150ml
Soy sauce  30ml
Red wine   30ml
Sugar      15g