Tonkatsu is a Japanese dish of a pork cutlet that has been coated in flaky panko breadcrumbs then deep-fried. Similar to a German schnitzel, tonkatsu was first served in Japan around the turn of the 20th century when Japanese restaurants began to offer more western-style food, known as “yoshoku”. Over time, tonkatsu has become one of Japan’s most commonly eaten dishes.
In addition to pork, almost any ingredient can be breaded in panko and deep-fried “katsu” style, including gyu (beef) katsu, menchi (minced meat) katsu, ham katsu, cheese katsu, and fish katsu. Read on to learn all about tonkatsu and how it’s eaten in Japan.
What is Tonkatsu?
There are two main cuts of pork used for tonkatsu: hire-katsu meaning “pork fillet”, and rosu-katsu, meaning “pork roast”. Hire-katsu is made with a lean pork tenderloin, while rosu-katsu uses a richer cut of pork that comes with a strip of fat along the side. Rosu-katsu tends to be the juicier of the two because it contains layers of marbled fat, while hire-katsu tends to be more expensive, as a higher quality meat of meat is necessary so that the meat does not become dry when deep-fried. However, both cuts are delicious, so the best choice really depends on one’s personal preference.
Some restaurants may also offer high-end brands of pork at a higher price point along with their standard offerings. This includes premium varieties such as kurobuta Black Berkshire pork from Kagoshima, the pork capital of Japan.
Tonkatsu is usually served with a bit of hot yellow mustard and a thick tonkatsu sauce that has a sweet and tangy flavor. While the recipe for tonkatsu sauce varies from restaurant to restaurant, common ingredients include fruity Worcestershire sauce and tomato ketchup. Toasted sesame seeds can be ground with a mortar and pestle and mixed into the sauce for extra flavor. Tonkatsu sauce can also be used on other Japanese fried foods like korokke (potato croquettes) and aji-furai (battered deep-fried mackerel).
How To Eat Tonkatsu
One of the most common ways to enjoy tonkatsu is in a teishoku (set meal) featuring rice, soup, raw shredded cabbage, Japanese-style pickles, and a sliced tonkatsu pork cutlet. The soup may be either miso soup or tonjiru, a type of soup made with miso and pork broth. The meal often comes with a slice of lemon to squeeze over the cabbage and the crispy tonkatsu. The clean flavor of the finely shredded cabbage and lemon juice provides a cool contrast to the richness of the juicy pork.
Katsu curry is a dish of Japanese-style curry and rice, topped with a sliced tonkatsu cutlet. Japanese curry tends to be more mild in flavor and somewhat sweeter than Indian-style curry, containing ingredients like honey and grated apple rather than hot and bold spices. The dish can be enjoyed with a hard boiled egg or some crunchy fukujinzuke pickles, common curry toppings in Japan.
Katsudon is a one-dish meal, featuring a Japanese tonkatsu pork cutlet cooked in a sweet and salty broth with scrambled egg and sliced onions, served over rice. The dish gets its name from the large bowl that it comes served in, called a “donburi”. The pork cutlet soaks up the flavor of the broth and onions, and the gently cooked eggs have a wonderfully creamy texture.
Tonkatsu is a common offering for the takeaway bento lunches sold at supermarkets and bento shops. A katsu bento will typically contain rice and a tonkatsu pork cutlet, along with sides like potato salad, a sweet Japanese rolled omelet, and vegetable pickles.
Katsu Burger / Katsu Sandwich
In Japan, tonkatsu is a popular alternative to beef patties for hamburgers. The tonkatsu pork cutlet is served between two hamburger buns with shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sauce. Similarly, a katsu sando is a tonkatsu or chicken katsu sandwich served with tonkatsu sauce and cabbage on shokupan, a type of soft and fluffy Japanese sandwich bread that usually has the crusts removed.
Where to Eat Tonkatsu in Japan
Tonkatsu is so prolific in Japan that it can be enjoyed everywhere from convenience stores and supermarkets to upscale tonkatsu specialty restaurants. Casual family restaurants known as “fami resu” and other chain restaurants specializing in Japanese food also usually offer a tonkatsu set meal on their menus.
One of the best places to try it, however, is at specialty restaurants dedicated to tonkatsu. The style of restaurant may vary from a no-frills neighborhood shop offering delicious homestyle pork cutlets made using a family recipe that has been passed down for generations, to upscale restaurants that use premium ingredients like Kagoshima kurobuta pork. Tonkatsu specialty restaurants may also offer other katsu-style food items such as ebi-furai (deep-fried shrimp) and kaki-furai (deep-fried oyster).
Tonkatsu (Japanese Pork Cutlet) Is a Modern Classic in Japan
Tonkatsu is a favorite Japanese food with great international appeal, thanks to the influence of Western cuisine and the use of high-quality Japanese ingredients. Enjoy it with shredded cabbage and sweet tonkatsu sauce, over flavorful Japanese curry, with savory egg, or in a sumptuous sandwich. Browse Savor Japan’s listings to find a Tonkatsu restaurant.
Disclaimer: All information is accurate at time of publication.