Deep-fried pork cutlet. とんかつ, 豚カツ, トンカツ。
A breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet one to two centimeters thick and sliced into bite-sized pieces, generally served with finely shredded raw cabbage, rice in a bowl, miso soup and tsukemono. Either a pork fillet (ヒレ, hire) or pork loin (ロース, rosu) cut may be used; the meat is coated with panko (bread crumbs) before being deep fried (furai).
"Ton" means "pork" and "katsu" is short for "katsuretsu," "cutlet."
Tonkatsu is eaten with a thick dark sauce (called sosu), which is a Japanese version of Worcester sauce. In other words, it is not pungent but sweet and contains pureed apples as its main ingredient. Usually, a dab of Japanese mustard is also served on the side. Each restaurant (chain) has its own "secret sauce."
Although formally Yoshoku, tonkatsu has traveled back to the Japanese cuisine, as is shown by the fact that the rice is not served on a plate, as was originally the case, but in a rice bowl with pickles and miso soup. Neither is it eaten with knife and fork (or a spoon, like that other perennial Yoshoku, curry rice), but with chopsticks.
Tonkatsu restaurants are popular in Japan - especially among students because "katsu" also means "wining" (for example, in the examinations). Moreover, most restaurants offer free extra helpings of rice, shredded cabbage and miso soup. Besides the basic "hire" and "rosu" mentioned above, the menu of such restaurants offers various kinds of tonkatsu, for example: with cheese, with a shiso leaf, with ume paste, with minced meat, with daikon-oroshi (in which case it is eaten with ponzu sauce), or with other types of furai as large shrimps and oysters, etc. Sometimes especially expensive pork is on the menu as an extra option, that of black pigs (kurobuta) from Kagoshima.
Besides being served as a meal set (teishoku), tonkatsu meat is also used as a topping for curry rice (katsu-kare), and a sandwich filling (katsu-sando).
[Tonkatsu Bento. Photo Ad Blankestijn]