*Warning: reading this post might make you drool…
If you didn’t know already- I am a big sucker for fried foods. I can do without sweets and candies, it’s fried dishes that are my personal indulgence. The hot, crispness that food attains after a quick battering and dip in hot oil never fails to awaken my salivary glands. The best fried dishes are crunchy (soggy fried food is the worst), piping hot, and not overwhelmed with batter. That being said, I think I’ve officially eaten the most delicious tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) during my recent visit to Kumamoto.
Before visiting Kumamoto, I did some research to figure out what the popular regional foods were. Aside from deep fried, mustard-filled lotus root (karashi renkon), black pork from nearby Kagoshima was mentioned as a must-try delicacy.
More commonly known as Berkshire Pork, this breed of pig is specially raised for its succulent flavor and unique tenderness. Since these pigs are black colored, they are called kurobuta (literally black pig) in Japanese. Compared to conventional pork, kurobuta meat is said to have a sweeter taste and much better marbling.
In Japan, there are several popular dishes to enjoy this special cut of meat: shabu shabu (hot pot of thinly sliced meat and veggies), tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), and shogayaki (pork slices braised in a ginger, soy sauce mix). While these all sounded delicious to me, given my affection for fried foods, tonkatsu was my go-to option.
The restaurant I visited was called Katsuretsu Tei. Located about a 20 minute walk from Kumamoto Station, it is closely situated to Ginza Dori, a popular shopping area. This tonkatsu restaurant specializes in serving high quality pork dishes.
I arrived at noon and was lucky to not have to wait for a seat. The restaurant was quite spacious and I was happy to see that distanced seating had been implemented. As the staff bustled around, a waiter gave me a thick Japanese menu that I attempted to read before I was handed an English one instead. (A reminder that I still have a looong way to go in my Japanese learning journey…)
With the new menu, I was able to quickly pick out my order- the specialty Atsuage Kurobuta Roast Katsu-Zen. (180g of thick-cut, premium pork loin roast cutlet from the famous black pig).
In addition to the fried pork, my meal would come with rice, miso soup, grated daikon radish, and pickled veggies. Additionally, I had the opportunity to make two sauces to go along with my meal.
After placing my order, I was given a mortar and pestle. The waiter instructed me to grind a few spoonful of sesame seeds, add katsu sauce, and mix together. At the table there were two styles of katsu sauce to choose from- Western style and Japanese style. The Western sauce tasted more worchestire-y while the Japanese one was thinner and had a slight hint of citrus. Wanting to eat as locally as possible, I crushed up the sesame seeds and added in a few spoons of the Japanese sauce.
For a second dipping sauce, I was told to add ponzu (a Japanese citrus) sauce to a mound of freshly grated daikon radish.
When the meat came out I was ready to dig in. Though I had ordered the thickest cut available, the meat was incredibly juicy and tender. The fried outsides were equally enjoyable, perfectly crispy and golden. I knew right away that this was the best katsu I had tasted.
Paired with a bit of mustard and my two dipping sauces, I was in heaven savoring each bite. By the end of the meal I had finished all of the pork, soup, pickled veggies, and most of the cabbage. I was stuffed and content. (Though I might have actually eaten a bit too much ?).
Needless to say, I was really impressed with this meal. The star of the show- the fried kurobuta, did not disappoint, and creating the dipping sauces added another layer of interactive fun. Though incredibly delicious, this meal definitely came with a premium price. The lunch set cost just under ¥3000 (~$30). Considering that most katsu lunch courses are closer to ¥1200-¥1800, this is quite a high price.
Nevertheless, my taste buds were satisfied and I figured that this is the cost of premium quality pork in Japan. For me this isn’t a place to visit regularly, more a place to celebrate special occasions, or to show someone who has never been how good tonkatsu can really be.
Hungry For More? Check out some of my other favorite restaurants I’ve visited in Japan!