Takadanobaba's Hidden Tonkatsu Gems
When it comes to food that you must try in Japan, things like ramen and sushi often top the minds of many. However, an often forgotten but equally delicious meal is tonkatsu. Essentially a breaded, deep fried pork cutlet, it is a dish that sounds deceptively simple and easy to prepare but difficult to be truly delicious. Tonkatsu meat is usually salted, covered in flour, dipped into beaten egg, and then coated with bread crumbs before being deep fried.
In Japan, the tonkatsu menu typically offers two options – Hire Katsu (ヒレカツ) or Rosu Katsu (ロースカツ). Referring to two different cuts of meat, Hire Katsu is pork fillet (much like the fillet you get in burgers), while Rosu Katsu is pork loin. Rosu Katsu has a layer of fat around the pork cutlet, which when deep fried skillfully, is immensely delicious though sinful. For most restaurants that don’t specialize in katsu, Rosu Katsu is the only katsu offered, and thus the only cut of meat most visitors to Japan would know. Hire Katsu has all of the fat trimmed before battering and frying, resulting in a tender fillet.
Photo: Shinya ICHINOHE on Flickr
Roast Katsu (ロースカツ)
Photo: toyohara on Flickr
In a restaurant that doesn't exclusively serve tonkatsu, it isn't rare to see a variety of preparation methods of this pork cutlet. Tonkatsu can be served with curry rice, with egg and rice, or even as sandwiches as sold in convenience stores. Meat such as chicken or beef are also sometimes used as alternatives to pork in regions outside of Tokyo. However, for the amount of calories you would be expending on this dish, it is advisable to go to a restaurant that specializes in preparing tonkatsu and taste the wonders of a well-prepared dish.
Takadanobaba, a neighborhood largely known for its proximity to Waseda University, is an often-forgotten area especially compared to busier areas like Shinjuku or Ikebukuro. However, it is actually just a 10 minutes subway ride away from these busy areas, and is a neighborhood that boasts a variety of good food and a vibe more slow-paced than its bustling counterparts. It is here in Takadanobaba that two amazing Tonkatsu restaurants can be found.
1) Narikura Tonkatsu
Narikura Tonkatsu (成蔵) is a 10-minute walk away from the Takadanobaba subway exit. A restaurant well-known amongst locals and tourists, there is always a queue snaking from before the shop opens to before last orders are taken. The small restaurant seats 18, resulting in a need to queue. My first visit there around noon resulted in a 45 minutes wait. I got luckier on my second visit where I started queuing around 1130 and only stood in line for 20 minutes.
As you can see from the menu, a variety of portions and meat types can be found. I went for the Rosu Katsu Set, which costs 1100 yen.
The long wait for the food was worth it the moment the set was served. The Tonkatsu was served with sides, cabbage, a very flavorful miso soup, rice, and potato salad. Each component of the set tasted fantastic, and went well with the tonkatsu. Sinking my teeth into the tonkatsu, I was amazed at how the meat was not greasy at all, and the fat from the cutlet literally melted in my mouth. The meat was juicy and tender, the portions were generous, and I was extremely full from the meal.
Another tonkatsu restaurant found a 5-minutes walk from Takadanobaba station is Tonta (とん太), my personal favorite. After queuing for 20 minutes, we entered and got a counter seat. I went for the Hire Katsu set this time, which costs 1020 yen. At tonkatsu restaurants, you are typically served sesame seeds which you are expected to grind, add a light soy sauce to, and then dip your pork cutlet into. Salad dressing goes with the cabbage, and a darker tonkatsu sauce goes with your tonkatsu. The fillet was extremely tender and delicious, and was definitely worth every cent I paid.
Narikura can be found at 東京都新宿区高田馬場 1-32-11 小澤ビル地下１F and is open from 11:00 – 14:00 and 17.30 – 20.30 every day except for Thursdays and Sundays. Tonta can be found at 東京都豊島区高田 3-17-8 and is open from 11:30 – 13:30 and 18:00 – 21:00 on Tuesdays – Fridays, and from 18:00 – 21:00 on Saturdays.