Falling in Love with Japanese Cuisine at Katsukura Tonkatsu
As a four-time visiting gaijin who recently moved to Japan to help out with the caregiving of a feisty mother-in-law, my love affair with Japanese food didn't actually begin until my first visit to Japan back in 2007. Don’t take me the wrong way, like many others I had eaten plenty of Japanese food before I came to visit Japan. After all, having been in Los Angeles for 25 years, 15 of them married to a Japanese national, we do have a large Japanese expat population. So naturally I've eaten at more than a few Japanese restaurants and Japanese grocery store food courts. But Japanese food in the States is nowhere near the boss-level that you're going to experience here in Japan. First of all, the typical American perception of Japanese cuisine appears to be limited to sushi, ramen, or teppanyaki (think Benihana), depending upon where you live.
If you live in a big city like New York, Chicago, or L.A., you might come across some shabu-shabu or a DIY charcoal grill shared plate style Japanese BBQ like Gyu Kaku. But for the most part it’s just sushi, ramen, or teppanyaki. But before taking you on this journey, let me give you a heads up. You won’t find many local sushi chefs slinging that off-brand Americanized volcano crunchy caterpillar rainbow California Philly roll nonsense here, it’s nigiri sushi all day every day. So unless you want to look like a douchebag, do yourself a solid and refrain from asking for it, but I digress…
My love affair with Japanese cuisine actually began at Itami Airport, at a chain restaurant named KATSUKURA. As many of you already living here know and those of you contemplating a visit will certainly find out, it’s a long trip getting here. Having flown in from L.A., it was an 11 hour flight plus a long line at customs in Tokyo Haneda Airport before going through the whole boarding process all over again to get on our connecting flight to Itami Airport in Osaka. By the time we got there, we were both tired and hungry. The first thing I noticed was that unlike your typical airport in the United States, the airport restaurants here are refreshingly nice.
Katsukura was where I had my first experience eating tonkatsu, which is a pork cutlet coated with panko (light and flaky breadcrumbs), fried and served with a small cup of rice, a small cup of miso soup containing a little seaweed with tiny tofu chunks, a small cabbage salad, and a suribachi bowl of sesame seeds with a wood grinder.
Here's how it goes, you receive the suribachi bowl of sesame seeds first, usually with your tea and or your beer, which if you’re anything like me you are definitely ordering one. Let me tell you, the last time I went to a Katsukura was at the CUBE building of Kyoto Station just a few days ago and believe me when I say that it was without a doubt the coldest draft beer I’ve ever received at a restaurant, no exaggeration.
This is typically how it’s done at just about any Japanese restaurant that serves tonkatsu, mind you. But Katsukura is particularly unique in that everything is original, like the pork which is “three way crossed,” bred to get the best traits of all three breeds of pigs that are carefully raised in a clean environment and fed clean food to provide safe and tasty meat. This deliciously bred and raised pork is covered in kiln baked crushed panko flakes, which makes for a nice and light but crunchy flavour saver that packs a punch, believe me. Not only is their cabbage domestically grown, but their salad dressing caught me by surprise. Normally, I’d never been much of a cabbage guy. I usually leave behind the cabbage salads that most Japanese restaurants serve. But Katsukura’s original oil-free Yuzu salad dressing made me change my mind about that. I leave nothing on my plate when I eat there.
But let me tell you about their original tonkatsu sauce, and this is important, believe me. Every joint has it and most households keep a bottle of it in their refrigerator. But Katsukura’s original tonkatsu sauce is absolutely superb, and I’m not one to bandy that word about. When I say “superb,” I’m not just throwing out adjectives all willy-nilly like Donald Trump likes to say “in the history of____,” I mean what I say.
Trust me, just grind up that little suribachi of sesame seeds into powder and pour in some of that tasty tonkatsu sauce, of which they have not only an original but a bold version of it as well, and you'll see for yourself that I don’t mince words. You can find a Katsukura restaurant at any of these locations:
- Sanjo main location
- Address: 13 Ishibashicho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-8036
- Hours: 11:00–21:30; 11:30–22:00 Saturdays
- Kyoto Station Building, The CUBE Shop 11th Floor — (pictured in this article)
- Address: Cube 11F, Kyoto Station Building, Higashishiokojicho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, 600-8555
- Hours: 11:00–22:00
- Umeda Chayamachi location
- Address: Apuro-zutaun B1F, 19-19-19 Chayamachi, Kita-ku, Osaka 530-0013
- Hours: 11:00–22:00
- Otsu location
- Address: 9-20 Kinoshitacho, Otsu-shi, Shiga 520-0812
- Hours: 11:00–22:30
- Mint Kobe location
- Address: Mint Kobe 7F, 7-1-1 Kumoidori, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo 651-0096
- Hours: 11:00–23:00
- Kumamoto Tsuruya location
- Address: 6-1 Tetorihoncho, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto, 860-0808
- Hours: 11:00–21:00
- Shinjuku Takashimaya Department Store location
- Address: Takashimaya Times Square Building 14F, 5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0051
- Hours: 11:00–23:00
- Seibu Higashi Totsuka location
- Address: Aurora Mall 7F, 537-1 Shinanocho, Totsuka-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa, 244-8530
- Hours: 11:00–22:00
For the sake of brevity, I kept the list limited to only one to two locations per city. Click here for a more comprehensive list of Katsukura locations.
By now If you've already clicked on that link you’ll see that it’s quite a list, ladies and gentlemen, but that’s just how good they really are. They've grown their business to an impressive 27 locations in Japan alone, as well as a location in Shanghai, China and another one in Bangkok, Thailand. Know this, however, they’re not the only players on the block. Since my love affair with Japanese cuisine began with Tonkatsu, I have become something of a tonkatsu connoisseur and I could go on and on for pages about Butaya Ton Ichi (House of Pork), Katsu Ya, Wako, and Tonkatsu Satsuma, however I think that I’ve already gone on long enough. But take it from your Uncle Eric, he wouldn’t steer you wrong, not when it comes to food. Enjoy!