Like many Japanese things, donburi is simple, functional and elegant. Just fish, meat or vegetables served over rice, donburi (or don for short) is a staple of Japanese cuisine that's been cheerfully exported to the rest of the world, and it's a dish that's sure to be around long after other food fads have passed us by.
Literally translated as ‘bowl’ in Japanese, the term donburi now encompasses rice accompanied by a seemingly endless variety of toppings. Some of the more common types of don you'll find around town include karaage (deep-fried chicken), tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), chicken katsu (fried chicken cutlet), ebi (prawn), teriyaki beef and salmon.
Here are five dons we're digging in Sydney right now.
Chasu gohan at Ippudo
This branch of Ippudo's worldwide ramen concern (they have outlets in Japan, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Taiwan and Shanghai) landed in Sydney last year, and in addition to their famous ramen (the Akamaru Shinaji is noodles dunked in a tonkotsu broth topped with miso, garlic oil, pork, black mushroom and soybean sprouts), they offer bar snacks like pork and shrimp buns, camembert tempura and fried chicken wings glazed with black pepper sauce.
They also do a tasty mini donburi – the Ippudo Chasu Gohan – a bowl of rice topped with simmered slices of pork belly. It's best accompanied by one of their Japanese craft beers.
Yakiniku don at Ichi Ban Boshi
This gleaming, and usually bustling, eatery next door to Books Kinokuniya has been doing its thing for years now – but you'll still probably have to wait in line for a while. The menu traverses a reliable offering of gyoza, okonomiyaki, yakisoba and a page chock full of ramen varieties.
Their donburi selection is also well thought out – there's karaage, tonkatsu and ebi dons, as well as the spicy yakiniku don – a bowl of rice topped with grilled Wagyu beef and kimchi. There's an express version of the restaurant downstairs in the Galeries' food court for don on the run, and for the Eastern Suburbs set, an outpost at Bondi Junction.
Raw salmon don at Jap's Table
Jap's Table is a small, family-run affair offering sushi, yakitori, ramen and dons. The yakitori is one of the main draws - skewers of chicken thigh, breast, heart, liver and skin cooked over hot charcoal out on the pavement by the chef.
You can even get the meat de-skewered and served over a bowl of rice for a very authentic yakitori don. The chyashu don is also worth a look; it's tasty roast pork and greens on rice. The raw salmon don is also excellent, a simple dish of rice topped with slices of fleshy pink raw salmon, sesame seeds and sliced shallots.
Chilli beef don at Menya City Noodle Bar
This is the newer branch of Menya following on from the George Street shop (Menya Mappen) and the original Menya in Haymarket (the one near the grapes on the ceiling restaurant). At this new branch, there's ramen, curries, salads and some delicious takoyaki on offer. There's also a good range of donburi. Try chicken katsu, spicy karaage or the salmon don, which has sliced fresh salmon, egg omelette, flying fish roe, picked ginger and wasabi. Chilli beef don is our pick; it's a tasty mix of stewed beef, chilli, ginger, shallots and sesame seeds on rice.
Shop 2, 1 Market Street, Sydney
Chicken katsu don at Ramen Zundo
Ramen Zundo is a cheerful Japanese eatery located amongst the maze of World Square. The decor's simple, but the display of red and white paper lanterns is a nice flourish. They've got ramen – their variations on traditional tonkotsu ramen from Kyushu lures in hungry Japanese students until a line snakes out the door. Also on the menu are a range of Japanese curries, and a simple and well-presented range of dons. There's karaage, crumbed prawn, teriyaki salmon and raw salmon varieties, as well our pick - a simple chicken katsu don, consisting of crunchy deep-fried chicken fillet on rice.
Shop 1030 World Square, 644 George Street, Sydney