No one thinks it’s possible to eat Japanese food everyday and gain weight, but here I am having done just that. I decided to eat, drink, and enjoy my time in Tokyo, and I’m prepared to face the consequences later. When in Japan, right!? So on that note, today I am posting about deep fried pork cutlets. Believe it or not, it’s a Japanese specialty that goes back about 100 years when it was first introduced as “European” food. It started as katsuretsu (Japanese way of saying “cutlets”) of beef and then became とんかつ tonkatsu, made from sirloin (ロース, rōsu) or fillet (ヒレ, hire) of pork over the years. Most people name Tonki and Maisen as the two most famous tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo. Tonki has a standard/simple/straightforward tonkatsu menu but at Maisen you can choose to have the famous black pig, kurobuta tonkatsu as well as other fried dishes. I’m not usually big on fried anything and I’d already had tonkatsu a few weeks ago at Maisen, but when I found out there was a tonkatsu place near my apartment where more than three dozen types of pork were offered, I knew I had to check it out. Dining alone would only allow me to try one tonkatsu so I recruited my friends John and Tomo to go with me.
It was a rainy weekday night but the small restaurant in the residential area of Nishiazabu was busy. We took the only table that wasn’t already reserved. From their small wine list we took the server’s recommendation and got a bottle of Bordeaux to get us started. We opted to skip over the appetizers and go straight to the main event. We listened to our helpful waitress’ suggestion for the cutlet orders. Most Japanese prefer the sirloin cut (rōsu) because it’s fattier and juicer- i.e. more flavorful and delicious. Women and those on a diet (I don’t know why you’d be eating deep fried pork cutlets if you’re on a diet but who knows) order the lean cut, fillet (hire). At most tonkatsu places that’s the only decision you need to make; you either order the sirloin or the fillet. But at Butagumi, there were sub-sections under rōsu and hire, with descriptions like “light,” “flavorful,” “rich,” and “juicy and super rich.” And under each of those descriptions were a list of pork from various regions of Japan and Spain. Yes, Spain. At Butagumi, you can get tonkatsu made from the famed acorn fed Iberico pig (it’s the most expensive item on the menu at ¥4,800 ~ $50 USD).
We ordered two sirloin cuts and one fillet cut. I was curious about this pork called Tokyo X so that was my choice; it was filed under the section “rich taste.” The other sirloin was called “super golden pork” from Saitama (filed under “juicy & super rich”) and our fillet was from Niigata and called “Tsunan pork.” On average they were about ¥4,000 ~ $40+ USD each, definitely not some run-of-the mill pork cutlets.
Tonkatsu is almost always served with shredded cabbage, rice, and soup. These are usually all-you-can-eat and a few different sauces may accompany the pork cutlets. Some places have a little bowl for the diner to first grind some toasted sesame seeds and mix the tonkatsu sauce with it. At Butagumi, they recommended that we try the pork with just a bit of salt to really appreciate the taste of the meat. We tried it both ways, with salt and with their house sauce.
All three cuts on my plate for sampling… Most people would run away from all that fat but no, not me.
A lot of tonkatsu restaurants serve tonjiru (pork soup made with miso and vegetables) and some tonkatsu restaurants are famous for their tonjiru as well as the pork cutlets. At Butagumi, we were served miso soup with tiny clams. Of course I finished mine clean.
We had a lot of “hmmm,” “oishiiiiii,” and “wow.” And somehow after three pieces of beautiful pork, we weren’t finished. So we ordered ANOTHER one. We once again went with our server’s recommendation and I can’t quite remember which pork we got (I must have been too giddy to take note). But I do know that we got another sirloin cut but it wasn’t from the “super juicy & rich” section. The difference was very clear even just by looking at it.
John gave his seal of approval on this one, too.
We could have skipped dessert, but Tomo and I thought why?
Tonkatsu is definitely not everyday food. Before coming to Japan, the last time I had tonkatsu was probably more than 5 years ago in New York (katsuhama). But if I’m going to have deep fried pork cutlets, why not go to a good place in Tokyo?! I may go back to being a vegetarian once I leave Japan but for the yummy deep fried pork cutlets, I thank you Butagumi!
Maisen (まい泉とんかつ): 4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 東京都渋谷区神宮前4-8-5
Tonki (とんき): 1-1-2 Shimo-Meguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; 東京都目黒区下目黒1-1-2