Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gyudon (Beef Bowl), Japan's answer to McDonald's

Beef bowl: Delicious! Fast! Cheap! Japan’s answer to fast food and hamburgers.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

Gyudon (beef bowl): 380-630 yen (4.13-6.86 USD), depending on size ordered

Gyudon is cheap. The Japanese answer to McDonald’s and its burgers, gyudon is basically thinly  sliced beef and onion stewed in a special sweet sauce, made up of soy sauce, dashi (fish stock) and sweetened sake. The concoction is topped over fluffy Japanese rice and can be served with ginger, a freshly cracked raw egg and a bowl of steaming hot miso soup.

Weighing in at only 380 yen (4.13 USD) for the normal bowl, 480 yen (5.22 USD) for the large bowl or 630 yen (6.86 USD) for the super large bowl, it’s a cheap eat available everywhere you turn in Japan. In fact, you may even weigh the current economic condition by looking at sales of gyudon – the worse the economy is, the more bowls it will sell.

Yoshinoya, Matsuya and Sukiya are the leading gyudon chains in Japan, and like McDonald’s, are located in just about any corner of any Japanese city. They are open 24 hours a day, providing food to hungry salarymen in the mornings and afternoons, and food to drunk people in the wee early morning hours.

Unlike the Yoshinoyas in other countries such as America, the gyudon store setup is normally like a bar where a series of counters greets the casual customer. Orders are taken by the employee who will then literally shout it into the kitchen, where like a chorus it is repeated in enigmatic fashion. The employee will then slide you a cup of hot tea while you wait.

It’s not exactly food for the super health conscious due to the amount of sodium in a bowl – they will often simply fill the existing pot with more ingredients instead of emptying it and washing it out, allowing salt to gradually accumulate over the course of the day. It will fill your stomach, so if you’re ever in Japan on a budget, give it a go and remember to just shout “gyudon omori kudasai!”


The video below shows you what a typical ordering experience at Yoshinoya is like, about 1.5 minutes into the video. The store here is the first Yoshinoya store in Japan, which is in Tokyo near the Tsukiji fish market.

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  1. The poached egg on top of the beef bowl looks really. Good. Egg and beef are a good combo with rice!

  2. Usually it's raw egg though - not my favourite but people seem to do it!

    They have Yoshinoya in HK too, if you want to try. The beef bowl tastes just like the Japanese one - no compromises there!