Tonkatsu: 30 Days of Japanese Food

Everything you need to know about Tonkatsu: the history, ingredients and varieties of the Japanese dish.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Day 4: Tonkatsu

So it seems it’s not just the central Europeans who have a claim on the humble schnitzel. The Japanese also have a love of breaded meat and here it comes in the form of a tonkatsu.

Back in the old days, it was mainly beef which was used but since the early 1900s, the meat of choice has been pork.

It’s usually salted, peppered, put in light flour, dipped in egg, coated in breadcrumbs and then fried. And the result has become an extremely popular dish in Japan.

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At its simplest, the tonkatsu is served by itself. Normally there are a few condiments that go along with it, though.

The most popular is a Worcestershire-style sauce called (not so imaginatively) tonkatsu sauce. But it’s also normally accompanied by a slice of lemon and sometimes a special mustard called karashi.

Although a tonkatsu on its own can be quite filling, there are normally a few little additions that come with it. Cold shredded cabbage is the most common and at one place I’ve eaten it there were unlimited refills of the cabbage.

The waiter told me it would make me “clear” but I didn’t try to think too hard about what he was referring to. To thicken out the meal, there’s usually a bowl of rice and some miso soup as well.

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The tonkatsu can also be eaten in a sandwich, over rice with egg or with a curry. It’s a versatile little thing and it’s not surprising the Japanese find as many things to do with it as possible because it’s delicious.

The meat is thick and juicy, the breadcrumbs crunchy yet oily.

This meal of tonkatsu I had was an experience in itself. It was quite late at night because I’d arrived after dark in the town of Nikko, a few hours north of Tokyo.

There weren’t many restaurants open but this little place still had a light on. It felt like someone’s loungeroom as I sat down shoeless on a tatami mat and the elderly lady pulled herself away from the television to cook my dinner.

I was the only one there but it was a warm and homely feeling.

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The tonkatsu with cabbage, some side soba noodles, rice and miso soup cost 1200 yen (US$12.50) and tasted like it was straight from a home kitchen.

7 thoughts on “Tonkatsu: 30 Days of Japanese Food”

  1. Tonkatsu!!! Love the good old days in Japan!! I still seek out to find the best Tonkatsu in LA and have found some great contenders but its never the same!!


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