Gyudon (beef bowl) is a popular Japanese dish consisting of rice with beef and onion which are simmered in a sweet, mild sauce. The sauce consists of dashi, soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine). Beef bowls are commonly served with pickled ginger and ground pepper. The name Gyudon comes from the Japanese words gyu (cow) and don (short for donburi, bowl).
The history of the beef bowl began during the Meiji era when the Western custom of eating beef was adopted in Japan. The dish was derived from the Gyunabe and Sukiyaki-don dishes.
Gyunabe is a boiled beef dish that originated in Yokohama after the city’s port was opened to foreigners. The dish consists of beef cooked with soy sauce, mirin and green onions served with soba noodles. The dish was sold from street stands and eventually was also sold in chain gyu-nabe restaurants, such as Iroha, during the 1880’s.
Sukiyaki-don is a soup that is served with thinly sliced beef which is simmered with vegetables in a pot with a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Sukiyaki-don is one of Japan’s older dishes and the preference of how it is cooked is different between the Kanto and Kansai regions.
Somewhere along the way, somebody combined the different elements of these dishes to create Gyudon. The beef bowl dish was established in Japan during the 1890’s and was cemented into Japanese culture with the opening of the first Yoshinoya restaurant in 1899.
Beef Bowl in Modern Japan
The beef bowl dish has become a common, stable, and cheap meal throughout Japan with four major beef bowl chain restaurants. These chain restaurants include Yoshinoya, Sukiya, Matsuya, and Naka ?Commonly located near train stations and shopping districts, these? major chains provide busy Japanese citizens with a place to get a quick, hot meal at a fairly low price. Beef bowl can also be ordered ‘to go” like a fast food joint.
Yoshinoya, the largest beef bowl chain, was established in 1899 and took up a more permanent residence by the Tsukiji fish market in 1923. The motto of Yoshinoya is “Tasty, low-priced, and quick”. During the “mad cow” disease scare in America Yoshinoya had to stop serving beef bowl when Japan suspended importing American beef. Yoshinoya then began to serve pork bowls to replace the missing beef bowls on its menu. Yoshinoya also has several establishments in the USA where they serve beef bowl, teriyaki bowl, and a yaki udon chicken or beef bowl The price for a regular beef bowl at Yoshinoya’s in Japan is S円380 M 円 480 and a L円 630.
Sukiya is the second largest beef bowl chain and was established in 1982. Sukiya’s menu also includes other forms of donburi such as chicken, broiled pig, Chinese seafood and seared tuna. Other dishes they serve include curry and several meal sets. ?Recently, they have released a new dish of Gyudon with mayo on top. The price for a regular beef bowl dish at Sukiya is S円 280 M 円 380 and a L円 610.
Matsuya was established in 1966 and serves beef bowl under the name gyumeshi. Unlike other beef bowl chains where miso soup must be purchased separately, Matsuya includes miso soup with its gyumeshi. Matsuya also serves curry bowls and other grilled meat dishes. The price for beef bowls at Matsuya are S円 280 M円 380 and a L円 480. This is a fair price since the miso soup is included.
Naka opened in 1974 as a shop in an underground shopping center in Osaka. Naka’s menu includes the Japanese beef bowl, bowl of rice with eggs and chicken, pork cutlet on rice and several types of curry. At Naka the prices for a standard-sized beef bowl is円 290.
At all these establishments the main goal is to provide customers with a hot,? fast meal. Customers can sit down and order knowing their food will be ready in just a matter of a few minutes. Many foreigners also like beef bowl restaurants as it is a nice place to go and eat alone.
Cooking Beef Bowl
Want to try cooking beef bowl at home? Check out these links for recipes!
Text with Photos (Japanese)