Hidden in one of the narrow lanes that surround the lovely shrines in Asakusa, an interesting and inviting area of Tokyo’s Taito district, there is a tonkatsu restaurant, they have specialised for many years and produce an excellent meal. The restaurant itself is quite small with a little over a dozen seats, in small cosy booths, they offer an extensive menu in Kanji with over 50 items, mostly tonkatsu stuffing variations. I can’t read Kanji so I had to choose from the twelve items translated into English and used to produce a limited foreigners menu. I’m grateful for the limited choice, we got a late table, the menu has plenty to try and allows us to order quickly. It was quite cold and damp outside, the welcoming and refreshing green tea really made me feel welcome, the complimentary edamame (soybeans in pods) gave us something to snack upon while we waited for the tonkatsu.
We decided upon a miso stuffed and a scallop stuffed tonkatsu, both were very good, with the meat juicy and very tender, the crisp shell well seasoned and perfectly golden. The miso stuffed version had cheese along with the miso inside, it was a bit confusing flavour wise, and although tasty didn’t really add to the dish. The scallop filled version was awesome, that surf and turf combo that works so well. Both tonkatsu are served on shredded white cabbage accompanied by a barbecue sauce, dissimilar to the American barbecue sauce, used to dress the cabbage with, this barbecue sauce is a little mustardy and quite tangy, but very good. We also ordered a side of the delightful medium grain rice that is eaten here, it’s delicious and clumpy, so easy to eat with chopsticks.
Tonkatsu and Katsu curry are two food varieties that form an internationally recognisable part of Japanese food culture, yet neither of them are traditional foods of Japan. As with many things that the Japanese have appropriated, they have taken these foods, and improved on them, creating and delivering new dishes with local flair for local palates.
Tonkatsu is a seasoned, floured and bread crumbed pork cutlet, a bit like a schnitzel, only thicker. Ton being the Japanese word for pork, and katsu being a shortened word for katsuretsu, the Japanese for cutlet. The Japanese even improved on the breadcrumb coating, creating Panko, these breadcrumbs are held in regard by chefs worldwide as the best breadcrumbs available and form the recognisable crust that coat tonkatsu.
This is essentially a plain tonkatsu served with a curry sauce and rice, a shortened name is used I assume to save confusion. It’s so popular in Japan there is few restaurant chains solely delivering Japanese style curry, katsu curry is not the only item on the menu, yet the majority of items are crumbed and fried, clearly there is a preference for crisp foods with curry. Vegetables can be added if required, the curry heat can be modified and the volume of rice can be reduced or increased if desired. Between the two of us we had a fried chicken curry with vegetables, and a hand crumbed tonkatsu with curry and rice.