Many Japanese restaurants often serve a “katsudon” dish, which is a pork cutlet that comes with rice. Sure, it may not sound very exciting, tantalizing or even Japanese, but the dish has actually been a large part of Japanese food culture and tradition for a very long time. And while most Japanese restaurants will typically prepare and serve it in the same manner, each region of Japan actually has their own favorite recipe for Katsudon, with variations of ingredients that provide a wealth of umami.
A Bit of History Behind Katsudon
The word “Katsudon” is actually a combination of other Japanese words; “tonkatsu” which means pork cutlet, and “donburi” which means large bowl. The dish is part of a style of donburi dishes. They are dishes consisting of a variety of different ingredients served in a large bowl of rice and broth.
In the early 1920s, a Japanese high school student apparently created this particular donburi. Since then, it has become a dish traditionally eaten by students before important events, such as sporting events or school examinations, as the word “katsu” also means “to win.”
How to Make It?
For starters, you use either a lean or a fatty piece of pork for the dish. Then you dip the pork in egg, dredge it in panko bread crumbs, and deep fry it. After frying, you slice the pork cutlet and place atop a bowl of rice with a flavorful broth.
The broth itself is made with dashi and mirin, seasoned with soy sauce garnished with sliced green onion. Lightly beaten egg is also typically swirled into the broth or poured onto the sliced cutlet before serving.
The above preparation is how people in Tokyo traditionally make Katsudon. However, many other regions of Japan have their own flavorful versions of the dish.
In the Niigata region of Japan, the preference is for a thinner pork cutlet that has been soaked in soy sauce that exhibits both sweet and savory flavors.
Yo-fu (Western) Katsudon
Another variation popular in Niigata, as well as the region of Nagaoka, is to serve the pork cutlet with some ketchup or a similarly flavored sauce. This obviously appears to be much of an American-influenced dish. In fact, you may have already eaten something similar without ever realizing its Japanese background.
In the regions of Mizunami and Gifu, the egg is poured over the top of the cutlet, but not before it has been thickened using a starch, turning it into a sweet, syrupy dressing that delivers pure umami.
Many different regions of Japan, including Fukushima and Nagano, enjoy the Katsudon with a bold sauce known as tonkatsu sauce. You typically find this sauce, somewhat akin to a sweet and savory steak sauce, with the katsudon dish in Japanese restaurants in America. In fact, the dish may often appear on the menu as Tonkatsu.
In the region of Nagoya, the Katsudon dish is served with a miso-based sauce.
As you can see, there is no one particular way to enjoy Katsudon, though you may find a favorite after having tried a few of the variations. Visit an Asian grocery and you’ll find everything you need to try some of the preparations mentioned above.