Japan Travelogue Series: Donburi

Japanese cuisine is comprised of traditional and regional foods of Japan. The ingredients and preparation of the various dishes have evolved through the centuries of economic, political and social changes. Japanese cuisine is historically influenced by Chinese cuisine and Western cuisine in the modern era.

Traditional Japanese cuisine or washoku usually consists of rice with miso soup and other dishes made with seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often include pickled vegetables, fish, and vegetables cooked in broth. Grilled seafood is a common favorite. It can also be served raw as sushi or sashimi. Vegetables and seafood can also be deep-fried in a light batter, such as tempura. Noodles such as soba and udon can also replace rice.

A typical Japanese meal consists of rice in a small bowl with main and side dishes served separately in other bowls or small plates. Donburi however, (丼) literally meaning “bowl”, is a popular Japanese rice bowl dish that can consist of a variety of elements: vegetables, chicken, beef, pork, or fish, making it a complete meal. Donburi is usually served in huge bowls. To distinguish the dish even more, the bowl is called donburi-bachi while the food is called donburi-mono.Unadon


The History of Donburi

Donburi can be traced back to the Muromachi Period (1330-1570) with a dish called houhan. The dish, a bowl of rice topped with stewed vegetables and simple dashi soup poured on top, was initially prepared at temples. Dried food and vegetables were seasoned and shredded, then arranged on top of a bowl of white rice. The toppings consisted of ingredients with five colors: yellow, white, green, red and black to signify the Chinese theory of Yin-and-Yang and the Five Elements. Clear soup was poured over before serving the dish.

The donburi that we know today did not emerge until the Edo Period (1603-1867). Donburi was initially unpopular because it was associated with the bowl of rice offered to the dead. During the Bunka Bunsei Era (1804-1829), una-don, rice stuffed with grilled eel, came about so that people could eat easily while at a theatre. Soon after, restaurants specializing in donburi began to pop-up and thrive. With the population growth of Edo being over a million, the popularity of quick, easy to eat, affordable and delicious food became a favorite among the common folks.Katsudon


Many kinds of donburi

Katsudon – breaded deep fried pork cutlets (tonkatsu) simmered in onions and an egg.

Gyūdon – beef and onion simmered in  a mildly sweet sauce with onions, egg and sometimes shiraki noodles.

Unadon – fillets of eel (unagi) grilled in kabayaki style similar to teriyaki.

Tendon – rice topped with tempura.

Tentamadon- tempura simmered with sauce and a beaten egg.

Unadon – rice topped with unagi fillets grilled in kabayaki style (similar to teriyaki), glazed in sweet soy-based sauce.

Hokkaidon – consists of thinly-sliced raw salmon over rice.

The donburi simmering sauce used depends on the region, season, ingredients, and taste. A common sauce consists of dashi (a simple broth made from edible kelp and shavings of preserved, fermented tuna), mirin, and soy sauce. Donburi is usually made from almost any type of ingredient, including leftovers.

Check out Michelle as she enjoys donburi!