West Meets East: An American in Japan | All Blogs

Rice Bowls

By Josiah Lebowitz

Before we get into today’s topic, I wanted to let you know that, since I have next week off from work, I’ll be traveling around the Japanese island of Shikoku, which I’ve never visited before. While I’ll most likely write some travel tips for the area on this blog sooner or later, if you don’t want to wait you can read my travelogue every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at www.pebbleversion.com I should also mention that I’m not sure how often I’ll have internet access on the trip so there’s a chance I won’t be able to update this blog every day like I usually do. Now, back to the matter at hand…

Rice bowls are a staple of Japanese fast food. In fact, gyuudon (a bowl of rice topped with sliced beef and a soy based sauce) is often one of the cheapest meals you’ll find in Japan. At restaurant chains like Yoshinoya, you can get a decent sized bowl of gyuudon and a cup of tea for only several hundred yen and upgrade it to a set (which usually includes miso soup and a salad of some kind) for about 100 yen more (with the grand total for the gyuudon, tea, salad, and soup being around $5).

Most gyuudon restaurants are designed with quick meals in mind. They often ticket machines (which I explained in my post about Japanese restaurants) where you place your order and pay (though there are some where you have to tell your order directly to the server) and a long counter instead of tables. After taking an empty seat at the counter and handing over your ticket, you’ll be given a drink (usually green tea, barley tea, or ice water, depending on the restaurant) and your order will arrive in a matter of minutes. There will usually be a couple of boxes on the counter. The longer shorter one will have chopsticks and maybe some spoons while the other will be full of strips of pickled ginger (a popular gyuudon topping). There may also be a jug of tea or water, though usually the servers just periodically refill everyone’s cups.

As a note, gyuudon usually comes in two or three different sizes. Sometimes these sizes are written in Japanese using the kanji symbols for big and small. If you can’t read them, you can always go by the price since the larger the bowl is the more it costs. Sometimes, however, sizes are given as S, M, and L. The thing to remember here is that Japanese people tend to refer to them as S, M, and L instead of small, medium, and large.

There are a few common variations on standard gyuudon, though the names of each vary a bit by restaurant. First up we have gyuudon topped with green onions (negi), which is just what it sounds like. Gyuudon with egg (tamago) is usually a normal bowl of gyuudon with an egg (either soft boiled or raw) on the side, which you then break open and mix in. There’s also rice bowls with chicken (tori or toriniku) or pork (buta) instead of beef, though at that point they’re no longer gyuudon since gyuu means cow or beef.

If you’re looking for a quick and cheap meal in Japan, gyuudon (or some other type of rice bowl) is a great way to go. Aside from the fast service and low price, it tastes great and is a whole lot healthier than a burger and fries (which you can also find in Japan, but we’ll talk about that another day).


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