I’m about to head to Japan for a couple of weeks, so I thought I’d leave you with a recipe I picked up during my first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

I first had gyudon at a little donburi shop not far from the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. Donburi means “rice bowl,” though the word has come to refer to a category of food served in these large, deep bowls. Rice is the base of every donburi, with a variety of hot toppings being ladled over the top. Beef was first used in donburi in the mid-1800s, when eating beef was no longer forbidden to the common people. Gyu donburi means “beef rice bowl,” but this is commonly shortened to simply gyudon. I love this dish.

There are a few exotic ingredients in this dish, but once you have everything on hand, it’s a breeze to make. Enjoy.

(Beef and Onion with Rice)
4 cups of hot, cooked white rice
1 pound thinly sliced beef
2 medium onions
1-1/3 cups dashi (see notes)
5 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
3 Tbsp. mirin
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. sake

Cut the onions into thin half-rings. Cut the beef into bite-sized pieces (see note below about sliced beef). Put the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion slices and simmer for five minutes, or until the onions begin to get a bit softer. Then add the beef and simmer for a few minutes longer, until the beef is cooked through with no pink showing. Serve over white rice in deep bowls. Serves 4.

Notes: You’ll probably need to visit an Asian grocery store to find many of these ingredients. While dashi, a fish stock that is the base of a surprisingly large range of Japanese dishes, can be made from scratch, most people now opt for one of the easier ways of producing it. The two options I’ve tried are the powder—just mix it in hot water, and there’s your stock—and the small bag filled with all the classic ingredients, which you then drop into water and boil for ten minutes. The second version offers a little better flavor, but the first version is much easier and is good enough for most applications (including gyudon). Look for dashi (powder or bag) that has bonito flakes high up on the ingredients list, as this is the real flavoring agent behind traditional dashi. I usually look for dashi that doesn’t have MSG, but that’s just a preference—Asia uses lots of MSG, so it has nothing to do with authenticity.

Mirin is a sweet rice wine, but you can usually find “cooking mirin” in the vinegar and soy sauce aisle, even in stores that don’t otherwise carry alcohol.

Any Asian grocery store with a meat counter will likely have pre-sliced beef on hand. You could also ask the butcher at your regular grocery store to slice the beef —sirloin, rib eye, and top round are nice choices—into the 1/4-inch-thick slices needed for this dish. Be aware that the slices of beef purchased in an Asian grocery store will often be the full size of a steak, just very thin, and you need to cut them a second time into strips that are about 1 inch wide. Note that the strips of beef for gyudon are generally a bit thinner than what you normally find cut up and sold as “stir fry.” So your best bet is to get the Asian-style sliced beef and then make your strips.

©2009 Cynthia Clampitt

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Filed under Food, History, Recipes, Travel

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