Katsudon is one of the staples of Japanese rice dishes you can commonly find on the streets of Japan. The name katsudon comes from the two main parts of the dish, tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) and donburi (a bowl of rice with ingredients on top). This filling bowl of meat and rice will have you walking out of the restaurant very satisfied.
The crispy fried pork is first sliced into strips and then placed onto a shallow pan that is used specially for katsudon and oyakodon. Sliced onion, dashi, soy sauce and sugar are added. A beaten egg is then dropped onto the cutlet while hot so the heat lightly cooks the egg. The crucial part is that the egg comes out half rare and wraps around each piece of the pork. The whole mixture is then carefully placed on a steaming bowl of white rice with green peas, parsley and/or red ginger topped for colours.
The process isn’t too complex, and Japanese families often have katsudon at home as well. In particular, when it comes around to important tests and school entrance examinations, Japanese students would often eat this dish for good luck. This is because the word katsu (カツ) can also mean katsu (勝つ), meaning “to win”. Fun fact, the Japanese word katsu came from the English word "cutlet."
While the egg + pork recipe is considered the regular katsudon by most Japanese people, there are variations of this dish in other prefectures of Japan. The sauce-katsudon (thick Worcestershire sauce) is a standard often seen on menus as an alternative. Nagoya’s speciality is to use Aichi Prefecture’s kacchou-miso as the sauce to make the miso-katsudon. There are also demi-glace-katsudon from Okayama and soy-sauce-katsudon from Niigata. Although not regionally specific, katsudon with curry sauce poured over is also very commonly seen and loved by many. These versions have no eggs or onions, but instead come with a pile of thinly sliced cabbage in the bowl. Depending on where you are traveling in Japan, you can discover different varieties of this nationally popular dish.
You can get yourself a bowl of tonkatsu for about 500 yen if you visit chain shops like Katsuya or Katsu-Sato. The more expensive shops use high quality pork (e.g. Japanese black pork). The frying oil also tends to be healthier. Besides the meat, you can also distinguish a good shop from average ones by the batter/shell. A good tonkatsu shell should be light, fried to a golden yellow and extremely crispy. The crispy shell depends purely on the skill of the chef, and it is arguably just as important as the tender and juicy pork meat itself.
If you are not a fan of pork, there are other choices many shops tend to offer. Chicken katsu replaces the pork with chicken and offers more volume of meat. Ebi-fry has five or six shrimps, fried with a batter and placed onto the rice. These two options are often served with the thick Worcestershire sauce instead of using eggs, but they are definitely delicious alternatives.
With the thick crispy pork, softly cooked egg and the steamy bowl of rice, a bowl of katsudon can fill your stomach and the souls of many. When you are in Japan, katsudon is a cheap and delicious must-try.