People tend to think of sushi and teriyaki when thinking of Japanese food, but there is in fact a lot more to the cuisine than what we are exposed to abroad!
Japanese food philosophy is so unique, emphasizing care and consideration with every detail, that it really reflects a beautiful mindset towards how we view food. Understanding Japan’s food philosophy goes a long way in understanding the other nuances of the culture. I truly believe that the best way to help spread Japanese culture is by sharing the food.
While it is impossible to pick a favorite Japanese dish, one dish that I love to introduce is donburi, since it’s different enough to be exciting, but not too different from what people already love about Japanese food.
In Japanese, donburi literally means bowl, but it also refers to the dish that’s served in the bowl. Sometimes shortened to don, the dish consists of an oversized bowl of rice, served with a variety of toppings simmered in a savory sauce. While the ingredients can vary, donburi are usually seasoned with three essential Japanese seasonings: soy sauce, mirin (a rice wine), and dashi (fish stock), which are what make it so delicious and so distinctly Japanese! To finish the dish, an egg is often added to the top in the last minute of cooking, but you can always leave it out.
The first donburi was topped with eel, like the picture above, and appeared during the Edo era. Serving the rice and the main dish in the same bowl was efficient and practical—it was a Japanese version of fast food.
The dish fit perfectly with the ever-bustling Tokyo culture (just as busy back then as it is today), so it quickly caught on and variations soon appeared. The variations include Oyakodon, which is served with chicken; Tendon, which is served with a fried pork cutlet; and my all time favorite, Gyudon, which is served with beef.
There are a lot of restaurants that specialize in donburi, and every region has its own distinct type of the dish. What’s great about donburi is that they’re cheap and flavorful, which makes for a great, affordable meal while traveling in Japan!
Beef Rice Bowl – Gyudon
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Yields: 2 servings
- ½ pound beef
- 1 white onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 2 tablespoons dashi stock
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 eggs (optional)
- 2 cups cooked Japanese Rice
- 1 green onion
- pickled ginger
- Cutting Board
- Small Mixing Bowl
- Wide Skillet
- Cut the onions and beef into thin slices.
- Heat the oil in wide skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add the beef cook until browned.
- Add the sugar, sake, mirin, dashi and soy sauce. Reduce heat to low and simmer until most of the liquid is gone.
- Scramble the eggs in a small bowl. Add the egg to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until the egg is just cooked.
- Place the beef and egg on top of steamed rice and pour desired amount of sauce. Top with pickled red ginger and green onion, and enjoy!
A foodie at heart, Dani Baghernejad is especially eager to share Japanese cuisine. While she’s always been curious about Asian cultures, she first fell in love with Japan after taking a Japanese class in college. She was first introduced to Japanese cooking by reading Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji, and fell in love with the food because of its unique style. She launched Otaku Food to make Japanese cuisine more accessible, emphasizing, recipes that are simple, yet true to form, in the hopes that everyone can have a little taste of Japan, no matter where they live.