A Guide to Japan's Well-Loved Katsudon

Katsudon: Decoding Its Meaning

One of the many reasons why people all over the world love Japanese culture is due to their selection of mouth-watering traditional dishes. Thanks to the Japanese' gastronomic discoveries, the rest of the world can enjoy eating sushi, sashimi, tempura, takoyaki, and many more delicious dishes. It is safe to assume that almost anything in a Japanese menu will make anyone's tummy very happy.

A real crowd pleaser among the various Japanese dishes is the katsudon. Its popularity spans not just within the islands of Japan but goes way beyond it. It has become quite popular, that even western and other Asian countries have entire restaurants dedicated to serving katsudon as their star dish.

For the benefit of anyone who has not heard of katsudon yet, due to one reason or another, it is basically a piece (or several pieces) of pork cutlet covered in an egg-based batter, and deep-fried to perfection. Its name "katsudon" is a combination of the words "katsu" and "don", which were actually derived from two existing Japanese food: "tonkatsu" and "donburi".

The term katsudon is indeed a perfect name for this dish since it embodies the elements of the two dishes in order to create a unique dish on its own. The "katsu" aspect, which is derivative from "tonkatsu", means that the dish is made from pork cutlets. On the other hand, the "don" aspect, coming from "donburi", means that the final dish is presented in a bowl, with a cup of rice to accompany the dish.

A History: The Evolution of The Katsudon Bowl

The famous katsudon goes way back into the period of the Meiji restoration when Japan started opening its doors to western influence. Prior to this, the original dish composed of a rice bowl and cutlets made from beef, as beef was the common meat of choice during the older days of Japan. This can be related to traditional values that were relevant to Buddhism or Shinto practices.

Everywhere else in the world, pork was already a star ingredient among dishes due to the fact that it is tasty while being a more economical alternative to beef. Out of his desire to catch up with Western practices, Emperor Meiji started encouraging the whole nation to mimic western lifestyle – this was when the usage of pork for cooking started becoming an acceptable practice all over Japan.

Another aspect of the katsudon, which the Japanese have borrowed from western society, is deep-frying. It is quite uncommon for a Japanese to be fried, with the exception of the katsu and its relative dishes. Wanting to infuse more western elements into the day-to-day lives of the Japanese, Emperor Meiji encouraged deep-frying to be incorporated into Japanese dishes. His desire to infuse Japanese culture with food that takes inspiration from the west was the cause for the birth of "yoshoku", which are western dishes that have been transformed, nd given a Japanese touch.

The first form of katsudon goes way back to the year 1899, with Tokyo being its place of origin. That year, a restaurant named Rengatei that was known for serving "yoshoku" dishes introduced the "katsuretsu". In comparison, it is extremely similar to how the pork cutlet is prepared, and cooked at present. There are not many differences, aside from the transformation of its name throughout Japan.

The original term "katsurestu" that was used to coin the dish takes its roots from "katsu", in order to differentiate the dish as a pork cutlet. The "retsu' part was often omitted, with the dish fondly being called as "katsu" alone. This name experienced a transformation during the 1930's, when "ton" was added to the term katsu to emphasize that it was made from pork. Later on, "katsudon” was coined to identify the dish in rice-topping form.

Calorie Counting: Katsudon's Calorie Content

People on a diet should be wary of eating katsudon as it on the unhealthier spectrum among the many Japanese food options. Due to the nature of how it is prepared, a katsudon is not the lightest nor the healthiest dish to eat out there. A single serving of katsudon can average to around 700 calories per meal.

For anyone who is counting their calorie intake, 700 calories for a single meal may be less than ideal. Since it is oily and deep fried, there is also a definite chance that the cholesterol rating of the dish has a high mg. Otherwise, katsudon is actually a perfect "cheat day" meal since it is filling, and the meat can be a source of protein, while the rice can be a source of carbohydrates.  

Of course, katsudon dishes that uses alternatives like chicken and fish will be a lower calorie content. People who are in a diet may opt to just order these options, since they have the same preparation as traditional katsudon, without the high caloric density of pork.

Cook It Yourself: A Basic Pork Katsudon Recipe

Since katsudon is well-loved all over the world, it is very easy to find places that serve katsudon whether one is on the east or the west side of the globe. However, those who want to eat katsudon out of the comfort of their own homes may want to try their hand at cooking katsudon. Luckily, there is not a lot of kitchen-related skills required in order to prepare katsudon; the bare minimum is that one should be able to deep-fry.

For those who are interested in preparing a homemade katsudon dish, below is a simple recipe that can help anyone get into cooking. The ingredients are quite simple and are as follows: sushi rice, pork loin cutlets, eggs, flour, bread crumbs, oil, chicken broth, soy sauce, white sugar, onion, and shallots.

The first thing to do in order to serve katsudon is to cook rice. There are different methods on how to cook rice, whether manual or through the help of a rice cooker. Hence, this step will rely solely on the preference of the person cooking. The best thing about cooking rice is that it can be left to cook on its own, so the one cooking may already proceed to cook the dish.

The first step into cooking the main katsudon is to first ensure that the pork is tender and tasty. The best way to do such is to pound on the meat using a meat mallet or a rolling pin repeatedly. Afterward, the season the meat with a mix of soy sauce, Season the meat with salted and make sure to rub the pieces it into the meat to maximize the taste. The next step is to cover the cutlets with breading.

In order to coat the cutlet with breading, it should be dipped into a bowl of flour first, then into a bowl of scrambled egg. It is important that the egg has been mixed prior to this. Once the cutlet has been dipped into the egg, the last step is to submerge them in a bowl containing breadcrumbs.  The three ingredients combined through this process should create a soft, dough-like covering for the cutlets.

Once the cutlets have been breaded, it is now ready for frying. Since the cooking method requires deep-frying, the pan must contain oil at a height where the cutlets can be submerged fully. The cooking process should only take around five minutes, with the cutlets turned into the other side halfway of that.

After deep-frying the katsudon, it must be left alone to cool for a while. This is the perfect opportunity to make the accompanying katsudon sauce. Cooking onions in oil, then adding a mixture of chicken broth, soy sauce, and sugar, makes the katsudon sauce. After some time, the sauce should thicken due to heating, however, it should be at a consistency that is only slightly thick but still runny.

Going back to the fried pork cutlets which have cooled down already, the next step is to fry them lightly – this time with eggs placed outside of the breaded surface. The final katsudon pieces should be done, and ready to be served on top of individual rice bowls after a minute or two.

The final step would be to indulge in a delicious, and hearty home-cooked meal. Using this basic katsudon recipe, there are a variety of ways as well to elevate the katsudon-eating experience at home. The section below will discuss the many varieties of katsudon, which one can mimic while cooking katsudon at home.

Best Way to Eat Katsudon: Varieties and Pairings

Like many other dishes in Japan, there are several variations to the katsu that everyone loves. While all of these dishes make use of meat cutlets, there are changes in cooking preparation and/or ingredient list that is enough to merit the dish as a unique variation. Another factor as well is the region of origin, since food styles tend to vary over the different prefectures and their way of preparing food to tend to be customized with a touch of their own individual taste. For example, Nagoya city is famous for their custom katsu sauce that is miso based.

The first difference among the different katsu types is the base meat used to create the cutlet. Of course, pork is the most popular variant – this is the "tonkatsu". However, a unique meat variant is called "menchikatsu", and it is made from either ground beef, or a mix of ground beef and pork meat. Meanwhile, a winner for those who want to experience katsudon, without the guilt of eating high-calorie pork meat, is the chicken variant. Chicken katsu is usually made from a boneless chicken breast, so it is tender and guaranteed healthy.

Those who want to eat katsudon while feeling a bit fancier may opt to order "gyukatsu", which is a beef variant of katsu. However, this is not just plain beef cooked similar to its pork counterpart. Instead, gyukatsu features a delicious steak inside its breaded walls. Another posh variant of katsu is the salmon katsu, which as the name implies, is made from salmon steaks. This dish combines the breaded goodness of katsu with the rich salmon taste.

Aside from the variety of base meat material, katsu can also be customized with selected fillings to elevate the taste into the next level. A good example of this is cheese katsu. Since cheese perfectly compliments anything, a katsu infused with cheese is surely heavenly.

The accompanying katsudon sauce may also vary between several places in Japan, however, the most basic sauce should have a strong tangy taste to compliment the fried meat. When cooking at home, one can choose to adjust the mix of sugar and soy sauce in order to get the tanginess that first his or her preference.

One of the unique ways to eat katsu, and is quite popular all over the world, is to eat the katsudon with curry sauce. This variant is called the katsu curry, and it is a definite fan favorite among Japanese locals. Those who are outside of Japan should not fret though since most places that are dedicated to serving katsu usually offer this specialty.

The curry katsu marries the deep-fried pork cutlets and accompanying cup of rice with a dark sauce made out of curry. The idea may seem weird since the yellow Indian-style curry does not complement fried food well, however, Japan has already tweaked the curry sauce based on their own local preference. Instead of getting a rich curry taste, the dark sauce is sweeter and has only hints of curry embedded inside.

Katsudon Pirozhki: Bridging Real Life and Anime

While watching local Japanese anime, it is hard not to notice how much the creators include the presence of food into their shows. Some shows even have their own take on Japanese food, as if the characters existed in the real world so they could create their own version of the already well-loved food.

A perfect example where real food meets Japanese anime is Yuri on Ice. This is a popular show about boys who are into ice skating and has already gained a huge following outside of Japan. The said show features their own take on katsudon in the form of a katsudon pirozhki. Thanks to die-hard fans of Yuri on Ice, there are several recipes already circulating on the Internet that would allow anyone to recreate the fictional dish.

What makes Yuri on Ice' katsudon is that it is covered inside the flaky sour cream bread. Hence, the first step in order to make this dish is to make a basic dough using milk, activate the yeast, salt, eggs, and butter. Once the dough has risen, it is combined with a mixture of flour, salt, baking powder, eggs and sour cream. It seems tedious, but the end results are satisfying.

The katsu and rice can be prepared in the same way as they are usually prepared. Once they have been cooked already, including the katsudon sauce, they are wrapped inside the homemade sour cream dough and fried to perfection. Wrapping the rice and the cutlet inside the can be quite challenging at first, but the learning curve gets easier after a couple of tries. The dough-wrapped cutlet and rice are then fried until both sides are brown enough and cooked.

After all that hard work, the only thing left to do is to enjoy the katsudon pirozhki. True fans can bring this to a whole new level and watch the show while eating their homemade pirozhki.