When most people think of fast food, they picture burgers and fried chicken from McDonalds or KFC from a drive through window. For many Japanese however, fast food comes in the more traditional form of gyudon in a sit-down restaurant. When in Japan, do as the Japanese do. Many Japanese will often opt to grab gyudon for a quick lunch or small dinner on the way home from work.
Gyudon literally translates to beef bowl. It will consist of a bed of rice with a layer of thinly sliced fatty beef (or pork) followed by an assortment of optional toppings. Gyudon is popular due to it being cheap to make and its simplicity, making it a popular lunchtime meal for Japanese workers and a standard staple in most Japanese fast food restaurants. You can go plain or go fancy and get your bowl of beef filled with toppings to your liking. Additional toppings can include anything from green onions, mayo, to raw egg and everything in between. Cheese in particular is one of the most popular gyudon toppings among younger Japanese and is my fave topping personally.
When it comes to Japanese style fast food and gyudon, three chain restaurants rein supreme: Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and Matsuya.
Yoshinoya`s menu boasts having Japan's number 1 beef bowl, and many Japanese would find it hard to disagree. Along with their gyudon, Yoshinoya also serves up specialty noodles, curry and tempura dishes. However, if you do find yourself at Yoshinoya, it is recommended that you try the gyudon first. You won’t regret it!
Sukiya is a close competitor to Yoshinoya and is by no means a poor substitute. While their menu isn’t as diverse as Yoshinoya`s, Sukiya`s meat bowls are beloved by many. Sukiya`s cheese gyudon is to die for if you are a cheese lover or looking for a hearty filling meal for cheap. Many Japanese will go to Sukiya specifically for their delicious cheese gyudon.
Matsuya is the restaurant you go to if there is no Yoshinoya or Sukiya around. Matsuya`s gyudon lacks the flavor and love of their Yoshinoya and Sukiya counterparts, however it still makes a fitting meal for those looking for a quick lunch fix. Personally, I prefer to order hamburg from Matsuya if I find myself dining there.
Most branches will have an English menu available making it easy for foreigners on the prowl. Some branches even have a ticket machine with pictures, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of speaking. If there is no ticket machine, usually you can get away with the picture pointing method on the menu.
Most branches of Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and Matsuya will have a separate take out window if you want to get your food to go. If you don’t see a window, you can say “o-mochi-kae-ri-desu” which means you want to get your food to go.
If you find yourself in Japan why not give gyudon a try? Have you ever had gyudon before? What is your favorite topping, or what topping looks the most appetizing to you? Let us know in the comments!
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