The fierce competition between gyuudon chains and their aggressive expansion in Japan have made gyuudon, or “beef rice bowl,” a natural alternative to other local fast food options. The apparently healthier choice of gyuudon is often ordered in a set with miso soup and pickles, and is priced just around the same as western style fast foods – which, in my opinion, makes gyuudon more attractive if you are looking for something quick and filling, especially on cold winter days.
The name of gyuudon (牛丼) originated from combining gyuu-nabe (牛鍋; beef hot pot) and donburi (丼; “rice bowl dish”). Along with other types of now-commonplace donburi such as oyakodon (親子丼; chicken and egg bowl), gyuudon was a new style of main meal consumption popularized in the 19th century. The dish had been generally called “gyuu-meshi” (牛飯; beef rice) before the founder of Yoshinoya coined the term “gyuudon” and made it their founding menu in 1899.
Beef in a gyuudon is typically cooked in sukiyaki style – in dashi, soya sauce and mirin – together with onion. Some recipes will also call for konjac, grilled tofu and green onion, derived from its nabe origin; but beef and onion would be the major ingredients found in a gyuudon in most chain stores nowadays. Though the taste of gyuudon varies from family to family (and store to store), most would refer the “standard” gyuudon taste to that of Yoshinoya’s.
That said, making a gyuudon at home can be surprisingly simple and it can taste as good as those from a store. Getting a take-out from some chain store just around the corner is probably even easier – but here is the basic gyuudon recipe for those who are ready to try:
(Makes 2 servings)
150g (2/3 cup) Beef ribs (sliced)
3/4 cup Dashi (fish/ seaweed stock)
2 tablespoons Soya sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Cooking wine
1 1/2 tablespoons Sugar
1 slice Ginger (grinded)
Cut onion into thin slices. Add dashi and onion to a pot and bring it to boil. Turn down heat and cook onion until slightly soft.
(If instant dashi is used: Cook onion in 3/4 cup of water, bring to boil, then add instant dashi)
Add soya sauce, cooking wine and sugar to pot. Add beef slices, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add grinded ginger, plus extra soya sauce and sugar to taste. Turn off heat and place beef on top of rice in a bowl. Done!
You may also top the donburi with chopped green onion, shichimi chili powder, beni shouga (紅生姜; pickled ginger) and/or a raw egg, according to personal liking. Or experience with other toppings if you think beef alone is too plain – kimchi, okra or even shredded cheese just like the new Sukiya variations.