Gyudon: Beef Donburi

Donburi is one of my very favorite dishes, both to eat and to make. It's quick, easy, delicious and filling. In fact it's so easy that I almost hesitated to writing a post about it, but then I thought that it would be good for my readers to see just how easy washoku can be. After all, I'm hoping to inspire you, and lots of people can be intimidated by the sheer "different-ness" of the ingredients and techniques. Well it doesn't get much easier then most donburi.

Donburi means bowl, which this style of meal is called because it involves a bowl of rice, with fish, vegetables and meats, simmered together in a broth, then served on top of the rice. There are lots of different types, unadon (eel), oyakodon (chicken and egg), tendon (tempura), tekkadon (raw tuna), and many others. My absolute favorite is unadon, which is what I get almost every time I go to my favorite Japanese restaurant. 

Last night for dinner, I made gyudon, which is beef donburi. It's something I make pretty frequently, and I've tried a couple different recipes. This time I used one from Harumi's Japanese Cooking but another very good recipe is on JapaneseCooking101. It only takes fifteen minutes to cook, so it's great for busy week nights. With a side of vegetables or a salad, it's pretty darn healthy too.

With such beefy celebrities out there like kobe and wagyu, you might think that Japan has had a long history with the red meat so popular in the west. Well, you'd be wrong. If you've been following my blog you've probably picked up on the fact that the history of Japanese food is sort of broken up into two parts, pre Meiji and post Meiji. Before the country was reopened to the outside world in 1853, meat was hardly eaten at all in Japan.

In 675 CE, an official ban on meat consumption was enforced by the emperor. It was partially because of the popularity of buddhism, which had a taboo against meat based on a abhorrence to taking life, and for some practical reasons involving crops and livestock. The ban did not include fish, which probably would have been impossible to forbid, since Japan has always relied on the ocean for a good deal of its sustenance. Some people still ate wild game, such as boar (which were often called mountain whales) and deer, but over all the consumption of eating red meat was extremely limited.

This was the status quo for over a thousand years, until after a long period of isolation, westerner's banged down Japan's gates, metaphorically speaking. When Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Japan with his Black Ships and demanded Japan trade with them, he opened up the island nation to a period of westernization and a new era of food culture. A stream of new foods were introduced, which were embraced and are now a engrained into the culture.

One reason for the embracement of western foods was that Japanese government noticed that Europeans were larger and militarily superior. They speculated that this might have something to do with the large amounts of meat and dairy that the average western diet consisted of. So began a government sponsored campaign to promote meat and other foreign foods. Maybe there were some dubious people at the beginning, but after it was announced that Emperor Meiji ate beef and mutton often, the meat ban was officially dropped. 

Japan is excellent at embracing foreign customs and making them truly Japanese, and that is what happened with beef. Imagine going to a Japanese restaurant and finding no beef teriyaki or sukiyaki or shabu shabu. Truly a sad thought. In fact, I was a vegetarian for five years and then didn't eat any red meat for another two years. The only reason I went back to full meat eater was because I didn't want to miss out on all the wonderful Japanese dishes with beef in them. 

To conclude, I hope that this is a super easy meal that will encourage you to try cooking Japanese food. The flavors are classically Japanese and you will love how quickly it can be thrown together. Don't believe me? Watch the video bellow and you'll see how quickly I put this together. 

Until next time, keep cooking!

Below I've also included a video I made a while ago of making another kind of donburi, oyakodon (chicken and egg). You might notice that this was shot in my old kitchen and with an old camera. Enjoy!