While in Japan, you will come across many types of donburi or don – rice served in a bowl with vegetables, meat, or seafood placed over it. The dish is a simple bowl of goodness which is usually affordable and quick to prepare so it’s a hit with people who are budget-conscious and short on time.
Generally, there are three main categories of donburi:
Under the category of meat-based don, the 4 most common types would have to be the gyudon and steak don which contains beef, katsudon which contains pork, and oyakodon which contains chicken and eggs.
There are various renditions in this genre, but the unadon with eel, ten-don with deep-fried prawns, kakiage-don with prawns and vegetables, and kaisen-don with sashimi would have to be the most widely-available ones.
The vegetable-based don is gaining popularity in recent years due to the trend of eating healthily so the yasai-itame don is one of the more popular versions for people who want to have their rice with lots of vegetables.
However, there are more than the standard offerings to explore in the world of donburi so let’s find out more about these unusual and unique donburi which can be found at specific locations only.
— まつけーん🐒どうした🍜 (@matukenz) 2017年6月27日
If you happen to be in Asahikawa City of Hokkaido Prefecture, why not try the geso-don? There are various theories as to how this dish came about. For example, it was said that the geso-don originated as a new item on the menu of a soba restaurant with no seats back at Kagura, Asahikawa in 1998. However, Tenyuu, another soba restaurant in the city, was already selling the geso-don with yasaiten-don as regular offerings on their menu prior to 1998. Regardless of how the dish came about, it became so popular in Asahikawa that it is a must-have item now on the menus of soba restaurants and is also sold at supermarkets.
The geso-don comprises of squid legs called geso in Japanese which are covered in potato starch before being deep-fried and placed on the rice. Some restaurants make extra efforts in preserving the soft texture of the squid legs by using a fry-pan to deep-fry and pan-grill at the same time. Its sauce is made with soy sauce as the base and other ingredients, and is poured onto the geso and rice with grilled seaweed sprinkled on it. As the seas around Hokkaido produce fresh and high-quality seafood, the geso used in this dish are usually from the spear squid (yari ika) and the Japanese flying squid (surume ika). Usually, the squid’s legs aren’t used as the main item in a dish so it’s intriguing to see this being featured in this donburi.
Are you a fan of natto or sticky foods in general? If so, you’ll probably enjoy the Nebari-don from Mito City in Ibaraki Prefecture!
The Nebari-don features the local signature natto produced within Ibaraki which is placed on top of rice along with other ingredients such as Japanese yam (yamaimo), okra, nameko mushrooms, salmon roe (ikura), thick wakame leaves (megabu), grated yam (tororo), sweet potato (satsumaimo), carrots, and laver (nori). The composition of this donburi may differ across restaurants so you may find some unique ingredients such as eel (unagi) added to the dish. The dish looks very appealing visually since it’s made up of ingredients with different colors and consists of many types of nutrients and vitamins. After pouring in the special sauce for the Nebari-don, just mix the ingredients together and be prepared for the explosion of various flavors in your mouth. It is said that people who don’t like natto will surprisingly like this donburi so do check it out for yourself!
At the mention of Hibagon-don, it may not be obvious what type of donburi it is or what it contains. Actually, Hibagon does not refer to any of the ingredients in this dish and is the name of a legendary half-man, half-beast creature said to be living in the depths of the forest at Mount Dogo (Dogoyama) in Hiroshima Prefecture.
Back in 1970, the Hibagon was first sighted in Saijo-cho’s Yuki Ward (now part of Shobara City) and was said to resemble an ape-like human being with the following characteristics:
- Height of 1.5 m to 1.6 m
- Foot size of 27 cm to 30 cm
- Weight of 80 kg to 90 kg
- Its face is shaped like an inverted triangle and looks like human beings. However, the body is covered in brown or black hair.
- On its head, there is a small cluster of hair.
- Its movements are slow and clumsy and it doesn’t seem to fear human beings.
The Shobara City government has a web page (*Japanese only) on the Hibagon, the Hibagon-don, and where to find this dish in their local restaurants.
This legendary creature was eventually named Hibagon and news of its appearance caused the media to flock to the area at that time. It even led to the establishment of Ruijinen Kakari, the anthropoid ape department in the town government, which was tasked to handle affairs and sightings related to the Hibagon. However, the Hibagon has not been sighted again since the summer of 1974. Due to the locals’ affection for this creature which brought fame to their town, they gradually created many types of merchandise and food items using the image of the Hibagon or its name. This was said to be what led to the birth of the Hibagon-don.
The Hibagon-don is a very common dish in Shobara City where even schools include this on their lunch menu for the students. Generally, the dish will contain rice topped off with grated yamaimo, soboro which is actually fish powder but the chicken version is used here instead, finely-cut onions, mountain vegetables such as warabi, nori, and grated wasabi. You will need to mix the ingredients well with the rice and sauce before eating this. As to why these ingredients were chosen for the Hibagon-don, it was said that the mountain vegetables and yamaimo are things which the Hibagon would have eaten in the forest of Dogoyama, and that they are good for your health and boost your vitality.
— ＩＳＨＩ (@kaeru1go) 2014年1月31日
At first glance, the name of this donburi from Moroyama-machi in Saitama Prefecture may leave you puzzled as the Kanji characters (豚玉毛丼), if read one by one, would mean pig, ball, and hair. Don’t worry, though, there is nothing hairy and there are no balls in this dish. Many people would also get the reading of this name wrong as “Butatamage-don” when it should be read as “Buttamage-don.” This dish was actually created in 2010, can only be eaten in Moroyama-machi, and has become more popular over the years as a local specialty. Its unusual name actually reflects the elements of this dish – “butta” is with reference to the pork, “tama” is for the eggs which are called tamago in Japanese, while the character “ge” is the first character in Moroyama-machi’s Kanji name.
So what is so special about this dish?
To put it simply, it is somewhat close to the oyakodon which contains chicken and fully-cooked eggs since the Buttamage also contains meat and eggs. However, the contents of this donburi are actually rice, pork, half-boiled eggs, onions, cow parsley (mitsuba), and yuzu which are all produced locally. The donburi is eaten with a sweet and spicy sauce that is poured into it.
The selling points of this dish would have to be the half-boiled eggs and yuzu. Due to the fragile state of the eggs which are easily breakable due to any movement, this dish is never offered as a takeaway or delivery item so it must be consumed in the restaurant. As for the yuzu, it is something not commonly seen in rice dishes but its presence leaves a refreshing citrusy aftertaste but no strong sourness and removes whatever oiliness you may feel on your palate after eating the donburi. One interesting thing to note is that regardless of which restaurant in Moroyama-machi you eat this dish at, the standard price will always be 650 yen! If you are interested in knowing where to sample this special donburi, please refer to the listing on Moroyama-cho’s official website.
After reading so much about these unique donburi offerings, how about breaking out of the norm and discovering these new flavors? You’ll realize that there is more to the donburi world in Japan and will never run out of choices to find your ideal bowl of donburi!