Here’s my Monday morning, pretty much every week: I go to aikido at the kids’ school, then stop by my favorite grocery store called Hiruma to pick up something for that night’s dinner. My friend Karol also practices aikido, and I often bump into her at Hiruma right after class. Today as we headed out to the store she asked me, “So what’s for dinner tonight? I need new ideas!”. I quickly realized that we almost always have the same dinner on Monday: donburi, or [something] over rice in one bowl.
Donburi isn’t a recipe in itself, but rather a type of dish with cooked rice on the bottom and something layered on top. It sounds odd that [something] over rice gets its own name. After all, isn’t pretty much all Japanese food served with rice? It is, but typically the rice gets its own bowl, and you eat the rice plain. The first appearance of [something] over rice in the same bowl caused quite a stir when it was first introduced in Japan during the 18th or 19th century. That something can be tonkatsu fried pork cutlet (katsudon), tempura fish or veggies (tendon), or simply raw fish–raw slices of tuna make it tekkadon, a Tokyo specialty. In our family donburi always means one thing: equal parts diced avocado and raw, sushi-grade fish.
We started eating donburi back in DC, and it quickly became a family favorite. I would always prepare it after I had visited a store with sufficiently fresh fish, such as Wegmans grocery store or the giant H-Mart Korean markets way out in the ‘burbs. Here in Japan every grocery store carries some sushi-grade fish, so now pulling together donburi takes no forethought.
My recipe is barely a recipe, and changes. Starting in the bottom of the bowl and working up, I layer the following:
-Fish: diced bluefin tuna, salmon, ikura (salmon roe), or whatever else looks good
-Diced avocado, roughly equal to the fish
-Garnish: julienned fresh shiso leaves, furikake rice seasoning, freshly grated ginger, or a splash of soy sauce
Traditionally a donburi is served with a bowl of miso soup and some Japanese-style pickles; I usually do a green salad instead. My current letttuce-y obsession is mizuna, a spiky looking salad green that resembled arugula (also called rocket, depending on where you’re from). Its flavor is much milder, though. I used to use mostly the mizuna leaves and not so much the stems, but now I chop a whole bunch without picking out the stems. The stems have no bitter taste, and they are pleasantly crispy without the bitterness of some greens.
The history of donburi came from Japanese Soul Cooking by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat. Which is an awesome cookbook, BTW.