Translated by Takuya Erik Watanabe
Hungry? Try Gyudon - A Comparison Of Popular Japanese Beef Bowl Chains
Written by k_yamamuro
In this article, we'll be introducing four of the main beef bowl chains in Japan. We will compare their prices and characteristics to make it easier for you to choose which you would want to visit!
Gyudon is a beef bowl with thin, sweet soy sauce-flavored slices of beef and onions over rice. It's something you can eat when you're in a hurry, as well as when you don't have much money to spend. There are many gyudon chains in city areas, so they're popular among tourists as well. Another characteristic unique to these restaurants is that you can order your preferred amount, making it a good choice for both light eaters and those who want a big meal.
Gyudon Flavors, Ingredients and Price
Photo by jetalone on Flickr
The basic ingredients of gyudon are beef, onions, sweet soy sauce, and white rice. Depending on the store you might find different ingredients or toppings, allowing you to enjoy various tastes.
The price depends on how much you want to eat. The standard size is called namimori and the average price at a major chain is around 400 yen. An omori (large serving) is about 500 yen. (These are the prices as of January 2016.) As the price of gyudon changes significantly depending on the state of the economy, you might want to watch out for any price changes.
Other than these servings, there is the tokumori, which is a larger serving than the omori, and the minimori, which is smaller than the namimori. You can also add miso soup, salad, or eggs to the side.
Now we'll look at the four main gyūdon chains.
1. Yoshinoya - Long-Established
Photo by *_* on Flickr
Yoshinoya was established in 1899 in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. With it's slogan "fast, delicious, cheap", it has 1191 stores in Japan (as of December 2015) and over 600 stores overseas. You can easily recognize it by its signature orange sign.
Photo by danirubioperez on Flickr
The namimori gyudon is 380 yen (420 yen at some stores). The omori is 480 yen for just extra meat, and 550 yen for both extra meat and rice (570 yen at some stores). A veggie-don is also available for vegetarian customers.
At Yoshinoya, they value the communication between the store and the customers, so they don't have a ticket vending machine. It might be harder to overcome the language barrier, but it's a great environment for someone who wants to try speaking Japanese.
2. Sukiya - Various Menus and Toppings
Photo by Party0 on Flickr
Sukiya opened in 1982 in Yokohama. it has the most stores in Japan, a whopping 1962 stores as of 2013. The standard namimori gyūdon is 350 yen and the ōmori is 470 yen (prices may differ depending on location).
Photo by Urawa Zero on Flickr
What's unique about Sukiya is that it offers many different toppings such as green onions and cheese. There are also menus for children as well as kaisendon (rice bowl topped with sashimi) and other non-gyudon options.
Like Yoshinoya, many of the stores don't have ticket vending machines (some do). The sign is red and has "Sukiya" written on it in white letters.
3. Matsuya - Easy Ticket Vending Machine
Photo by Yuya Tamai on Flickr
At Matsuya, gyūdon is called gyumeshi (beef rice). It started as a Chinese restaurant in Nerima ward, Tokyo, in 1966. 2 years after establishment, it began service as a gyumeshi and yakiniku (grilled meat, or Korean BBQ) restaurant. The Matsuya Group currently has about 1000 stores.
Photo by sun_summer on Flickr
The price of the gyumeshi is 290 yen for a standard namimori and 390 yen for an omori dish. In some stores in the Kanto region, they serve a dish called "Premium Gyumeshi", which is a higher graded gyumeshi. The namimori is 380 yen and the ōmori is 520 yen. When you order a gyumeshi, you automatically get miso soup with it. Another unique point is that they don't use preservatives or food coloring in their seasoning.
Matsuya uses a ticket vending machine where you order and pay first. It's good for when you want to save some time. The vending machine has photos of the products, so you won't need to worry about not understanding Japanese.
The sign of this restaurant chain is a red circle on a yellow background.
4. Osaka-born Sweet Flavor: Nakau
Photo by Raelene G on Flickr
Nakau was established originally as a handmade udon shop in 1969. There are still traces of that tradition as they offer various other donmono (rice bowl dishes) other than gyudon, as well as Kyoto-style udon. There are 475 stores as of 2015, and they advertise their high quality service.
Photo by inazakira on Flickr
The Wafu Gyudon (Japanese-style gyudon) can be enjoyed for 350 yen (namimori) or 500 yen (omori). There are combo menus that you can add small-portioned soba or udon as well. Nakau is great for when you want to enjoy both gyudon and udon.
Orders at Nakau can also be made with a ticket vending machine. The vending machine uses the latest touch screen technology, and seems to include an English menu at the top.
*The gyudon prices are all from the official websites respectively, and are as of January 2016.