Things we love #5 – Donburi (Japanese rice bowl dish)



Donburi ((どんぶり) refers to cooked rice served with toppings. The big bowls the dish is served in is also called “donburi”.  The toppings vary by regions and seasons. Donburi was introduced in Edo period and the first one was Una-don(Unagi donburi). Unagi don literally means “Eel bowl” and its a dish where cooked rice is topped with grilled eel.

Since Donburi was easy to prepare and tasty, it became quite popular after the Meiji era. Now, there are many chains of Donburi shops in Japan. The most popular chains specialize in making Gyudon, a bowl of cooked rice served with beef.  These chain restaurants are called “Gyudon-ya” and have become an inexpensive dining option for salarymen(office workers) and students.

Some of popular chain restaurants are “Yoshinoya”, “Matsuya” and “Sukiya“.

Other popular Donburi

1. Oyakodon (Mother and Child donburi)

The main ingredients are Chicken and egg – hence called “oya” (mother) ko (child) donburi.

2. Katsudon (Pork Cutlet Donburi)

Rice topped with Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets) and onions

3. Kaisendon (Seafood bowl)

This bowl uses Kaisen which means fresh seafood. The most popular one is Maguro don (Tuna bowl). Like Unagi don, Kaisen don is more expensive than other donburi as they use seafood.

Why we love Donburi (especially Gyudon)!

1. Gyudon is a cheap option for a dinner. It usually costs somewhere around 400 – 600 yen. (Unagi Donburi is more expensive). Some Gyudon restaurants such as Sukiya offer Tea(usually barley) and water for free. Refill jugs are placed on the table for customers to serve.

Kimchi Gyudon with Miso Soup

Kimchi Gyudon with Miso Soup

2. Sometimes, eating just a donburi dish might not seem healthy. Our solution – order the smallest bowl and order a salad and miso soup to go with it. A balanced healthy meal option!

3. We think Donburi is more healthier than the convinience store bentos.

4. If the Gyudon shop is located on the street and not inside a shopping mall or station mall, they usually are open 24/7!!

Donburi with Cold Barley Tea

Donburi with Cold Barley Tea (at Sukiya)

Ordering a Gyudon –

The gyudon shops usually have 3 sizes – the standard serving is called nami, or namimori  (並盛), large-serving is ōmori  (大盛) and they also have an extra-large-serving  called tokumori (特盛)

Sukiya has “mini” (ミニ盛) size which is for kids. We usually order mini size if we visit Sukiya and sometimes order a miso soup and salad with it. tongue

Sukiya is also known for its many interesting toppings like Cheese and Kimchi.

At  Matsuya, miso-soup is usually complimentary.

We’ve noticed that Yoshinoya is frequented by working men. Women and youngsters seem to prefer Sukiya. Matsuya has varied customers. We like all three of them! We rotate our options and visit all three!

Yoshinoya lets you customize your gyudon bowl without an extra charge. Here are some phrases you can use –

Tsuyudaku More gravy

Negidaku- Extra onions

Atama no Omori – Extra helping of meat

Healthy options: 

Tsuyunuku No gravy

Toronuku: No meat fat

To order a gyudon you use the phrase “Gyudon size, special choice de”

Example:  “Gyudon nami, Toronuku de!”


Your thoughts…

Do you like donburi? Do you visit Gyudon-ya? Which one is your favorite and why? Let us know in the comments below.


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