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9 Delicious Donburi Bowls

donburi on the table

Donburi is a traditional Japanese dish, that always consists of a big bowl of white rice that can have all sorts of amazingly delicious toppings. In order to create such a dish, you need fresh ingredients, a bit of creativity and an eye for how to make the toppings look good. The spectrum of the toppings is only limited by the imaginatory strength of the chef. Throughout the centuries a few Donburis turned out to be extra popular and belong now to the “classics” of Japanese bowl dishes. Those traditional combinations are f. ex. Oyakodon or Gyudon. The naming of Donburi dishes is rather straightforward. The first part of the name describes the topping and is added with a “don” at the end. This suffix implies that the dish is served in a big bowl with white rice.

The modern take on Donburi originated in Hawaii and is called “Poké Bowl”. It follows the same principle as the Japanese original, but usually the topics are different. Here we find more a combination of toppings such as fresh vegetables & salad, nuts & seeds, fruits and raw fish or tofu. Btw, the name “Doburi” is used for the dish and for only the bowl a like.

We want to introduce you to 9 delicious Donburi dishes today:

  1. Tekkadon
  2. Unadon
  3. Kaisendon
  4. Tendon
  5. Oyakodon
  6. Katsudon
  7. Gyudon
  8. Shirasudon
  9. Ikuradon

1. Tekkadon

tekka don - raw tuna on rice

Tekkadon is a bowl of rice that is served with raw marinated tuna sashimi  (Maguro-sashimi) on top. The difference between this don and most others (except for Kaisendon and Ikuradon) is that it is served cold in order to support the fine taste of the sashimi. Raw tuna bowls are said to be especially delicious on the famous fish market in Tokyo (Toyosu, formerly Tsukiji) or on the most northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

This bowl is rather simple to create, as long as you get your hands on some good quality tuna sashimi. In Japanese or Korean supermarkets the fish is usually labeled as “can be eaten raw / sashimi”. If you are not sure, whether the sold fish has the right quality to be eaten raw (or if the labeling has only Japanese / Korean and you can’t read it), it’s better to ask the staff. In my experience the staff is usually friendly and ready to help you out.

2. Unadon (with Unagi)

unadon - grilled Japanese eel on rice

Grilled Unagi (eel) is a speciality of the Japanese cuisine. The combination of warm rice with the Unagi and it’s sweet caramelized and savoury sauce is just amazing. Everyone who goes to Japan should definitely give it a try! The pro-hint is to sprinkle some Sansho (Japanese pepper) over there Unadon. By doing so you add a nice lemony-fresh twist to the dish.

A lot of Japanese would take a long car ride of more than an hour only to get some great quality Unadon in a restaurant with a good reputation. There they do as everyone does, standing in the queue. Because as everyone knows: Where there is a long line, the food will  be worth the waiting! In Japan Unadon is a summer dish that is often eaten at the “Ushi no Hi”. Unagi is said to be vitalizing and to energize the drained bodies due to the intense summer heat.

In Germany / Europe it is much harder to find a good Unadon in a restaurant, so you need to do it yourself. In most Japanese supermarkets they sell Unagi that is pre grilled and only needs some reheating. Then you place it on a bowl of white (sticky) rice and enjoy it. Well, it is not as good as the fresh one in Japan of course, but it is still pretty good.

3. Kaisendon (Poké Bowl Style)

kaisendon - poke bowl

In comparison to the Tekkadon, Kaisendon includes several different kinds of sashimi (raw fish) such as tuna, salmon and herring. In Japanese high-class gourmet restaurants those Kaisendons can also feature scallop-sashimi or raw sweet shrimps.

As described in the beginning there is a modern version of Donburi, the Poké Bowl. In this variation, we also find Edamame, Tamago-yaki (jap. omelett), nuts, seeds and fruits that are rather atypical for regular Donburis. Many restaurants that are specialized on Poké Bowls let the customer choose and combine the toppings they like. But for those, who have difficulties to find good combinations on their own, they usually provide also a menu with different per-choosen toppings.

4. Tendon (with Tempura)

tempura with rice

Tempura often consists of veggies (Lotus root, pumkin, eggplant, shiso-leaves), mushrooms or shrimps, which are coated with a batter and are deep-fried to become light and crispy. This dish comes originally from Portugal and was brought to Japan by the portugese missionaries over 300 years ago. The word “Tempura” derived from the latin word “tempore” (time) and refers to the ritual period of fasting in christianity. Since the missionaries couldn’t eat meat during this period of time, they kind of hid it in the batter. The idea was that if you can’t see it, god also won’t see it and therefore it is no sin.

At the time to most Japanese those christian rituals did not matter anyway, but the dish was really tasty so they adapted it into their cooking. This is how Tendon made it into the Japanese cuisine. With the Tendon they usually serve two small dipping bowls (with Tempura-sauce and with salt).

5. Oyakodon

oyako don - donburi

Oyakodon is chicken meat that was cut into small pieces, fried in a pan and then mixed with whisked eggs and a Japanese Dashi broth. When the egg starts to be cooked, you place everything on a bowl of white rice. The slightly runny eggs seep into the rice and combine everything into an unbelievably delicious dish. In Japan you often can order Oyakodon in Udon-Suppen restaurants. This is probably like this, because Udon restaurants have stocked very good Dashi soup anyways, which is the essential base for a great tasting Oyakodon. The Japanese word “Oyako” translates to “parent & child” and refers to the chicken and the egg that are used in this dish.

6. Katsudon

katsudon - donburi from japan

Katsudon consists of Tonkatsu (Japanese Schnitzel) with scrambled egg on rice. Therefore the breaded pork steak is deep-fired and then cut into stripes. Then the Schnitzel stripes are put into a hot fry-pan with a mixture of whisked eggs and a sweet-savory Dashi sauce until the egg starts to cook and harden. Finally you place it on a big bowl of white rice and you are ready to eat. It is super delicious and easy to cook at home! (For those, who don’t like pork meat: You can also use chicken or tofu schnitzel. That is equally delicious!)

7. Gyudon

gyudon - thinly sliced beef on rice

Gyudon literally translates to beef bowl and is pretty much that. On a bowl of rice you are served a mountain of thinly sliced and in a sweet-salty broth simmered beef. Often the meat was cooked with a fair amount of onions to get a deeper, hearty flavor. In Japan this dish counts as “fast food” and costs around 3-4 Euros. Also you can top it with a raw egg, get a Miso soup on the side, Tsukemono (pickled veggies) and/or a small salad for additional 1-2 Euros. It seems that Gyudon is particularly popular with young Japanese men, teenagers and middle-aged people. As most don-dishes it is mostly eaten for lunch. Even tough it is most popular with these groups of people, it does not mean that you can enjoy a big bowl of Gyudon. Anyone that likes beef and rice, should at least try it once in their life.

8. Shirasudon

little baby sardine donburi

This Don is a specialty from the Kanagawa Prefecture (a little south of Tokyo) and has a topping of tiny raw baby sardines, herring or eel. These little fish babies are called Shirasu that translates to “white kids”. Where the name comes from is kind of obvious, when you take a glimpse on the picture above. For the dish, Shirasu is mixed with finely sliced green onion, seaweed or Japanese fresh herbs and then served on rice. Of course you can buy the Shirasudon also in other prefectures of Japan, but there you will get the cooked little fish.

9. Ikuradon

ikura don - donburi - japan

Last, but not least… Ikuradon! This is Ikura (salmon caviar) on rice. On this the opinions differ quite a bit. A lot of people love it and as many are disgusted by the thought of it. But there are very few people, who don’t have any opinion on it. So you have to decide for yourself whether you would like to try it or not.

I think the problem is not so much the flavor, since it mostly tastes salty and slightly fishy, but the consistency is rather odd. When you bite on these little bubbles, they pop open and suddenly release the liquid on the inside. (Very much like the bubbles in bubble tea) This is quite an experience, when you never had caviar before. But as I always say: Better try before you judge, because you might accidentally discover something delicious.

Do you want to cook your own DOnburi now, but are still missing the right bowl for it, how about having a look at the mini Donburi bowl or the large Donburi bowl? Whether you are a big eater or not, there is the right sized bowl for everyone.

tekkadon from japan

Published: 15.05.2020 | Posted by Miriam

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