Jul 1, 2015

DON Speak

It’s a quick and easy, yet healthy, way to get a balanced meal when you have little time to spare. We look at three types of rice bowls that are well-loved by Singaporeans and Japanese alike.


Don, a shortened name for Donburi, generally means “bowl” and refers to a bowl of cooked rice with some ingredients served on top. From broiled eels coated in a thick, slightly sweet sauce to deep fried pork cutlets, from pieces of raw fish to an assortment of tempura, the don is as versatile as it is popular.

A Complete Meal

Said to be invented in the late 1800s as a dish people could easily eat while attending the theatre, the donburi was an easy-to-prepare and tasty meal people took well too. It is also believed that the donburi was invented as a way to quickly feed craftsmen during the Edo period. As many of them were short tempered and tight with their money, restaurants came up with a way to serve up cheap meals in a large pot so this class of patrons could be satisfied.

Donburi is typically served in a large bowl so as to accommodate the toppings. You would never see plain rice served in a donburi bowl as that would make the diner appear quite gluttonish.

There are a myriad of ways to enjoy a donburi because of the variety of toppings you can have. Toppings vary by region, town, and season. Given its convenience and nutritiousness, it’s no surprise that donburi chains are a common sight in Japan. A donburi chain that you are probably most familiar with? Yoshinoya – Japan’s oldest and largest beef bowl restaurant chain.

From Budget To Blowout

Although created initially as a cheap meal, the donburi can also be quite a pricey dish to tuck into. Depending on the quality of the ingredients used, prices can vary from less than $10 for a beef bowl to more than $70 for an unagi don. Some restaurants are also attempting to impress customers with gourmet toppings such as wagyu beef, Kurobuta pork, and foie gras.

In the following pages, we look at three of the most popular ways to enjoy a donburi. Warning: Do not proceed on an empty stomach.

(Text Deborah Tan Photography Raymond Toh/Vineyard Production)

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