Many visitors come to Japan expecting (for better or worse) to eat sushi three meals a day, so when friends were in town from Europe recently, I decided to take them out for a different kind of Japanese food—tonkatsu. For those unfamiliar with the dish, it basically consists of a battered and fried pork cutlet, served with fresh shredded cabbage and a special sauce. Although it is served (at a very low price) at neighborhood counter shops around the country, a truly delicious tonkatsu requires high-quality ingredients and great care taken in preparation.
One of Japan’s most well known chain restaurants specializing in tonkatsu is Maisen, small branches of which can be found in department stores across the country. Maisen’s main location is in the back streets of Omotesando, a couple of blocks from Gold’s Gym and a branch of family restaurant Royal Host. Housed in a former bathhouse, the interior is spacious with high ceilings on the ground floor, and decorated in a no-frills retro style (think metal and wood chairs and plastic-covered tablecloths).
The meat cuts easily even with chopsticks, and the homemade bread crumbs are fried to crunchy perfection
In addition to tonkatsu, the menu includes katsu curry, katsu don (a rice bowl made with egg), and fried prawn dishes. We decided to stick with the basics, and ordered a round of kuro buta hire katsu and kuro buta ros katsu (¥2,995 each for a set including miso soup, rice and a dessert). Both are made with pork from Berkshire pigs, with the only difference being the cut of meat (hire is a lean fillet, and ros is a slightly fattier pork loin). Maisen has three different homemade tonkatsu sauces from which diners can choose, each one with a slightly sweeter, spicier, or more vinegary taste. The meat is well tenderized before being fried, so that it cuts easily even with chopsticks, and the homemade bread crumbs are fried to crunchy perfection. The flavor combination of battered pork with the slightly sweet sauce and fresh cabbage made for a savory delight well suited to even the most Western of palates. While it wasn’t the absolute best tonkatsu I have tried, it was definitely up there.
photo by yuichi sakurabares
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