Tonkatsu was invented in the late 19th century and it became a very popular dish in Japan. This Japanese version of the German schnitzel was inspired by a Western food boom in the late 19th century. The trend happened due to Japan opening up its borders to foreigners after a very long period of isolation.
Tonkatsu is a one or two-centimeter-wide pork cutlet that is breaded and fried. It is cut into bite-sized pieces, and usually served with julienned cabbage. The dish can be made with both lean pork fillet and pork loin, usually adding salt and pepper to the meat. Then dipping it in a mixture of flour, beaten eggs, and panko (Japanese bread flakes) before frying.
This pork dish has been adapted to fit Japanese palates more than other European foods. And today it is served with rice, miso soup, and tsukemono (pickles) in the purest washoku (traditional Japanese food) style. In restaurants, a tonkatsu set is served with chopsticks. Some establishments even serve the dish with the more traditionally Japanese grated daikon and ponzu instead of with regular tonkatsu sauce.
Many restaurants serve tonkatsu dishes with spicy yellow karashi (Japanese mustard) or a slice of lemon. Some people prefer it with soy sauce. In and around Nagoya, the specialty is miso katsu, tonkatsu served with a strong-flavored miso-based sauce.
Tonkatsu can be eaten in various ways, the set menu style is only one of those variations. Another interesting variation is one of the best examples of Western-style food with a very strong Japanese influence, ‘katsu sando’, a sandwich with tonkatsu in between. If you want to eat a hearty lunch or dinner that will keep you going for a long time, tonkatsu over Japanese curry (katsukarē) is a good choice. One more popular way to eat tonkatsu is katsudon, tonkatsu served with egg and onion over rice.
The quality of tonkatsu can vary greatly between shops. If you get a tonkatsu dish from a convenience store or a cheap chain restaurant your experience might be a bit underwhelming. The very best tonkatsu is usually to be had in small, local restaurants. They have perfected their food for decades or even longer. One of the best tonkatsu restaurants can be found in Kagurazaka. It is called Agezuki and there is usually a line, but trust us when we say it is worth the wait.
Some Handy Terms
Tonkatsu Teishoku – Tonkatsu, rice, miso soup and salad.
Kushikatsu – Pork and vegetables fried in abundant oil and served on a skewer.
Hirekatsu – Filet of Tonkatsu
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