What is gyudon (beef bowl), Japan’s comfort food?
"Gyudon" is one of the Japanese comfort food in which sliced beef and onion simmered in sweet and salty sauce made of soy sauce and sugar are topped on warm rice. The dominant theory states that it originated from “gyunabe (beef pot),” a dish created in the end of the 19th century. Gyunabe became tremendously popular when Western culture was introduced into Japan, a country that previously had no custom of eating animal meat; they say this dish turned into a more casual form of gyudon. The taste is similar to that of sukiyaki, but gyudon is cheaper and more unaristocratic.
In the first place, many of you may be unfamiliar with the category of “donburi-mono (rice bowl).” "Donburi-mono" or "don-mono" is a menu in which white rice is topped with side dishes; besides gyudon beef bowl, popular ones are katsudon (deep-fried pork cutlet bowl), tendon (tempura bowl), oyako-don (simmered chicken, egg, and onion bowl). Donburi-mono are all voluminous, and in many cases, ingredients with strong taste that really match the white rice are topped; the ingredients’ seasoning soaks into the rice, generating the unique gusto. The menu is particularly popular among young men and blue collar workers since a bowl is enough to get full. You will find ones with seafood topping; according to the ingredients they are called maguro-don (raw tuna bowl), uni-ikura-don (sea urchin and salmon roe bowl), or kaisen-don (assorted sashimi bowl) with a variety of seafood topping.
Going back to gyudon, many people enjoy eating gyudon at famous chain stores in the city. "Sukiya," "Yoshinoya," and "Matsuya" are so famous that the Japanese--especially men--are all familiar, and many of them have at least eaten once in these eateries. Amazingly, you can enjoy a standard gyudon for about 400 yen. For such reason, the chain store’s gyudon is related as an example of getting full at the cheapest price, and is sometimes used as a price indicator.
Just because it is cheap does not mean the taste is compromising; that is actually the secret of its popularity, and you will be satisfied at the cost effectiveness. Depending on the store, there are premises offering miso soup and salad besides gyudon; at morning hours, some offer breakfast special. Since their selling point is the price, you cannot expect luxurious relaxing tables, but gyudon stores would be one of the alternatives when eating in Japan.