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A guide to katsu (カツ)

かつ 牛かつ 弁当 beef katsu bento

I have always enjoyed katsu, but I never realized just how many varieties there are until recently. Usually when one says “katsu” they mean tonkatsu or a fried pork cutlet that has been rolled in egg and bread crumbs (of the Japanese variety called panko). But there are actually many more kinds than just tonkatsu. Let’s take a look at several.

Tonkatsu (豚カツ or とんかつ) is the most common. It is also called rosukatsu (ロースカツ). For most restaurants, that don’t specialize in katsu, this is the only katsu offered and hence is the one you will get. If you don’t like to eat fat and gristle then you will likely be disappointed in your bites around the edges of a regular tonkatsu as the Japanese don’t cut the fat off the pork cutlet when served in this way. It seems crazy, I know, but that is how they actually like it. I don’t mind it this way, but I much prefer the next kind.

Hirekatsu (ヒレカツ) is usually still pork, but all of the fat is trimmed before battering and frying. Hire comes from the word fillet, even though fillet in English doesn’t imply fat-free, and most katsu would be considered a fillet in English. If you are given the choice of rosukatsu or hirekatsu, go with hirekatsu. It is my favorite.

Chicken katsu (チキンカツ) is what the name suggests. I have been making chicken katsu for over 20 years, but it isn’t nearly as common in Japan as pork katsu. I actually didn’t make my first pork katsu until a week or two ago, using ultra thin pork that I trimmed down to include no fat. It came out quite well. I like my chicken katsu to be cut very thin as well.

Katsudon (カツ丼) means that the katsu is over rice with egg and onion and a sweet sauce. Sometimes rice comes as a side dish if you don’t order katsudon, especially if you order a katsu teishoku, but other times it will come without rice over cabbage. The extremely thinly sliced cabbage is great (even though I’m not normally a fan of cabbage), but katsu just isn’t the same without rice.

Katsu is also frequently served with curry (katsukaree or カツカレー). Even more common is to have it with tonkatsu sauce ((トンカツソース). Bulldog is the common sauce brand and can even be found in many places in the states.

Menchikatsu (メンチカツ) can sometimes be like a hamburger patty turned into a katsu, but other times pork can be the ground meat used in menchi. The word menchi is a Japanese abbreviation of “minced meat.” Onions and other items are frequently added as well so you are never sure exactly what you are going to get with a menchi katsu if you aren’t the cook or don’t ask beforehand.

Katsu sando (katsu sandwich or カツサンド) is a katsu put between two slices of bread, usually with the crust cut off of the bread. Personally I’d prefer it if they kept the crust on and cut off the fat from the katsu.

There are also beef katsu (gyukatsu 牛カツ) and ham katsu (ハムカツ). The picture at the top of this entry is actually of a beef katsu I picked up as my bento a week ago. The place where I purchased this bento also does a cheese katsu which adds cheese next to the meat before sticking the panko on and frying.

Kushikatsu (串カツ) is a smaller katsu on a stick. Since it is on a stick nearly anything can be skewered next to the meat. Onions are frequently included, but you can find variations with just about anything.

There are many other types of katsu that have been attempted and many more that will likely be created in the future, but the above should give you a pretty good idea about most of the katsu you will encounter.

Don’t forget to look for hire katsu. You may have a hard time going back to regular tonkatsu once you try hirekatsu, but you’ll be glad to have experienced the difference.

8 Responses to “A guide to katsu (カツ)”

  1. 1
    Al:

    I know a really good katsu place that’s about a ten minute walk from the Ebisu eki. If you’re interested, I could get you some directions, maybe even an address. I love their 上ロース, but I also love the fat. Good thing for my arteries that I live far, far away from Ebisu.

  2. 2
    acase:

    Near Hiroo? If you can come up with more specifics I’ll definitely check it out. I’m usually in Ebisu or Hiroo a few times a month.

    What were you doing in Ebisu? I thought you were in Hiroshima.

  3. 3
    Al:

    I was in Tokyo on business and a friend took me there. He used to live around the corner from the place. I liked it so much I’ve been back there every time I’ve been in Tokyo since then. I could probably come up with directions, but I’ll ask him for specifics and get them to you. I’m totally jealous of all the food you get to eat, by the way. I’d even take a good bento.

  4. 4
    acase:

    Come for a visit. Your wife and kids need a break from you anyway. I’ll even pay for your first katsu and bento while you are here.

  5. 5
    leif hagen:

    Your Katsu posting shifted my saliva glands into 4th gear! Delicious photo! Brings me back to my homestay and teaching days in Gifu-ken!

  6. 6
    Al:

    Tell you what. If I can get over there while you are still in Tokyo, I’d be glad to buy. Here’s the address:

    とんかつ天津
    東京都目黒区三田2-8-1

    At Ebisu eki, take the skywalk to the end and keep going past Garden Place to the bridge. Turn right and cross the bridge. Turn right at the light. Should be on the right side of the street as you walk up the hill.

    Enjoy.

  7. 7
    acase:

    If you can get here in March I can probably get you an apartment to stay in, all by yourself, for free.

  8. 8
    acase:

    とんかつ天津 is no more. There is a dry cleaner in its prior location. I went to find it twice. The first time it was night, and I didn’t bring a map so I thought I just missed it. The second time was in the day. I went around the block twice and could not find the place. Finally, I went into the dry cleaner and asked if they knew where とんかつ天津 could be found. The lady said she didn’t know, but she did know that the prior tenant was a とんかつ shop. I asked her when that was and she said until April of 2009. RIP とんかつ天津. I never got to try you.