Donburi Sauce

Posted by on April 29, 2010 in Blog, Japanese Cuisine Favorites, Rice & Sushi | 13 comments

Donburi Sauce 2a

Donburi sauce is the foundation of my Mom’s “-don” dishes, such as oyakodon (follow link for recipe), a chicken and egg donburi; tendon, a tempura donburi; and kakiagedon (follow link for recipe), a mixed vegetable and shrimp tempura donburi; and tanindon, a beef and egg donburi.

Because of the many uses of donburi sauce, I felt this savory and sweet sauce deserved a post all to itself.  Eventually, I’ll get to each of the donburi recipes my Mom made for us, however, I’ll start with oyakodon (follow link for recipe) since I had a request from a Foodie Friend.  :)

Donburi is a type of Japanese rice dish, served in a large bowl, or “donburi”, with rice on the bottom and topped with meat cooked with egg, meat, or tempura.  There is a wide variety of donburi.

I called my Mom for her donburi sauce recipe and I was afraid I was going to get her typical response.

I was right.

She said in Japanese, “just simmer water, shoyu, mirin and some brown sugar together”.  Hmmm, OK, thanks mom… but what about the proportions?  Of course her reply was something along the lines of 1 cup water, a few tablespoons shoyu, just a little mirin and sake, and maybe 1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar.

Using my Mom’s general guidelines I attempted to make donburi sauce last night. It turned out well.

Donburi Sauce

makes sauce for 3 – 4 donburi

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cooking sake

1. In a small pot, add water and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat.  Add shoyu, mirin, and sake and let simmer for 5 minutes.

2. Add brown sugar and cook until the sugar dissolves.


I find that when I eat donburi at Japanese restaurants the sauce is typically a good balance between sweet and savory, but I prefer savory over sweet.  If you’d like to make the sauce more sweet, consider adding an extra  1/2 tablespoon brown sugar, and if you’d prefer sauce that is more savory, add an extra 1/2 tablespoon shoyu. Try experimenting to get the balance of savory/sweet that you prefer.

I let the sauce cool to room temperature and stored this in the fridge so that I could make oyakodon over the weekend.  The sauce will keep in the fridge 5 – 7 days.

Stay tuned for donburi recipes!  Meanwhile, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave me a note.  I would enjoy hearing from you.


Judy | Bebe Mama


5.0 from 4 reviews
Donburi Sauce
Serves: 3 to 4
Donburi sauce is versatile and may be used on a number of Japanese rice bowl dishes.
  • 1½ cups water
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce), to taste
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons brown sugar, to taste
  • 1½ tablespoons cooking sake
  1. In a small pot, add water and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat. Add shoyu, mirin and sake. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add brown sugar and cook until the sugar dissolves.
  3. If you are not using the sauce immediately, let the sauce cool to room temperature and store in the fridge up to 5 - 7 days.


  1. avatar

    I have everything but the sake to make this sauce. I can see it would a versatile sauce that I could use with all kinds of dishes. I’ll have to get bottle of sake. My sister-in-law loves sake, so she should be able to recommend a good brand.

    • avatar

      Hi Kristi, Yikes! I have to thank you for finding a crucial typo in my blog recipe. I need to edit that. I always use cooking sake, not drinking sake. You can find cooking sake at most any Japanese or asian supermarket. I’ve actually never looked for it at the Albertsons where we shop, but it may even be at the regular supermarket in the ethnic foods section. Thank you, thank you! – Judy :)

  2. avatar

    Hey Judy! What’s the difference between mirin and cooking sake? Thanks! :)

    • avatar

      Hi Roxan, I’ve always thought that mirin is sweeter than cooking sake. Mirin has a very mild alcohol taste, although you can still taste it, and it’s noticeably sweeter than cooking sake. Cooking sake on the other hand has a strong alcohol flavor, but no where near the alcohol flavor as traditional drinking sake. Cooking sake is also mildly sweet, but definitely not as sweet as mirin. The differences are there but it’s very subtle. :)

  3. avatar

    Hey Thanks for this. I was looking to make a vegan Donburri with Tofu. – Betsy

    • avatar

      Hi Betsy, Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I hope the sauce turns out to your liking. It’s quite versatile! Happy New Year!

  4. avatar

    Is there any substitute for sake and mirin? It’s hard to find those stuffs here. And I don’t think my kids like alcohol. Thanks dear :)

    • avatar

      Hi, thanks for your inquiry. I completely understand about using alcohol-based products, especially with children. Typically, while cooking, the alcohol burns off leaving only the flavor however, even then there is a distinct taste which might be hit or miss. My four-year old doesn’t mind, or likely is used to the flavor of mirin and sake in the foods that I cook, however I use them lightly in the dishes that she eats.

      At some Japanese markets, non-alcohol mirin is available, but unfortunately I have not seen any non-alcohol based sake. As for a substitute for mirin, which is sweetened sake, and sake, which is strictly alcohol, there really isn’t a substitute for the flavor of this alcohol. Perhaps trying another non-alcohol cooking wine, perhaps, or a sweet wine, but even then, the flavor profile that traditional grape-vased wine is quite different than the flavor profile of sake. However, it might be worth experimenting with.

      Mirin typically adds a slight sweetness to foods, so adding just a touch of white or brown sugar to the dish, might act as the “sweet” substitute of mirin, however, the dish will lack the depth of the flavor of the alcohol. The combination of soy sauce and sugar will give the donburi sauce almost a “teriyaki” flavor profile, but it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. It shouldn’t be “bad”. :)

  5. avatar

    good site…i love it,,

  6. avatar

    Hi since im a muslim and i cant contain alcohol, i can’t use mirin or sake so is there any substitute for the 2 mentioned alcoholic ingridients mentioned?

    • avatar

      Non-alcohol mirin is available for sale. It might be possible to purchase this online.

  7. avatar

    So happy you shared this, Judy! My daughter LOVES donburi and I can now make it for her at home. I found everything I needed, including the mirin and cooking sake, right here in my local grocery in Carlisle, PA! Thanks a bunch! I am looking forward to trying your other recipes…

    • avatar

      I’m so happy you enjoyed the recipe and that you were able to find the ingredients you needed! Thanks so much for leaving a comment. :)