What is Donburi?

Celeste Heiter

Donburi is the Japanese word for a large bowl. Sometimes spelled “domburi," the word also refers to a type of Japanese food that consists of a large bowl of plain, white rice with one or more toppings. For such a simple dish, donburi has many interpretations. Toppings may be made from any kind of meat, seafood, or vegetables, which may be prepared in a variety of ways and sometimes include a sauce. There are, however, specific types of donburi dishes that are named according to the ingredients in the toppings.

Some species of tuna -- which provides the popular fish for sushi and sashimi -- can grow more than six feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds.
Some species of tuna -- which provides the popular fish for sushi and sashimi -- can grow more than six feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds.

The word donburi is shortened to the suffix “-don" for the names of these specific dishes. One of the most common examples is gyudon, which means “beef bowl." To prepare gyudon, thinly sliced beef and onions are simmered with soy sauce and mirin, a sweet sake cooking wine. Another donburi favorite is oyakodon. The name means “mother and child bowl," which refers to its main ingredients, chicken and egg.

Donburi may also be served with deep-fried toppings. One popular example is katsudon, a bowl of rice topped with a breaded pork cutlet. Donburi may also be topped with tempura. This dish is called tendon and typically features breaded, deep-fried shrimp and vegetables.

Some dishes are topped with raw ingredients. Kaisendon is topped with sashimi, which are thin slices of raw fish. For this dish, the fish is served over sushi rice seasoned with sweetened vinegar and a side of soy sauce. Tekka-don, another raw dish, is topped with spicy tuna. A similar version of this dish is negitoro don, fatty tuna belly with spring onions.

Donburi is especially popular as a fast food lunch or a late-night meal. In Japan, there are many restaurant franchises where donburi is readily available, inexpensive, and quickly served. The most popular donburi restaurants in Japan are Yoshinoya, Matsuya, and Sushiya. Yoshinoya was founded in 1899 and has since expanded its franchise to countries throughout Asia, as well as to New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas in the United States.

Donburi recipes vary from one region to the next, and the simmering sauces may change according to the seasons. Some Chinese restaurants in Japan serve their own versions, called chukadon or gomoku. A dish known as makanaidon is popular as an after-hours meal for restaurant employees, with the day’s leftovers served over a generous bowl of rice. In home kitchens, donburi is also a popular comfort food for many Japanese families.

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Discussion Comments


Donburi is one of the easiest ways to bring Japanese cooking into your home because of the huge variety of options you have available. Some of the best donburi recipes I have came across have been made by pure chance.

If you want something really tasty to try out I suggest going for gyudon. The beef used in gyudon is savory and it actually reminds me a bit of stew beef with the way it has been cooked.

I will warn you though, gyudon is heavy on rice so if you are on a diet you may want to share your bowl with a friend.


One of the best things to try if you visit a Japanese restaurant and are feeling a bit wary of new foods is katsudon. The pork cutlet is amazing and not too far from what you would expect a western breaded meat cutlet to be like.

I really like that the katsudon is served in donburi as I feel the large bowl makes the meal feel even heartier. There is nothing better than getting a hot, steaming bowl of rice topped with tasty pork cutlet and the sauce they use on it. You can even get vegetables as a topping at some places, so you can make your meal a bit healthier if you don't want too many naughty carbohydrates in one setting.

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