Marbled Pork at Tonkatsu Butagumi


I can honestly say that I have never had good pork until I came to Japan.  Although Japan is famous for its beef, the pork is also high quality, marbled, juicy, full of flavor, and oh so tender.  There are many ways to eat pork in Japan, but one of the popular dishes is tonkatsu – a lightly breaded, fried pork cutlet.  I’ve been wanting to try Butagumi in Nishi Azabu for a long time.  It’s rated as one of the best places in Tokyo for tonkatsu, and I have to agree that it’s my favorite so far!


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Tonkatsu: An Ode to Pork

Garlic Stuffed Tonkatsu: Japanese Pork Chop

You’ve never had pork until you’ve had pork in Japan.  Just like beef, Japan has designer pork farms, areas that are known for it, and many grades of pork.  And just like well-marbled beef, Japanese pork is amazingly tender, juicy, soft, and weaved with tasty fat.

Tonkatsu Ichinomiya

The easiest and best way to try pork in Japan is to go to one of the many tonkatsu (pronounced: tuhn-kah-tsue) restaurants.  Tonkatsu was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the 1800s.  It was originally made with beef, but after a western-style restaurant in Ginza served it with pork in 1890, it became a hit and a classic.  We happened to be in Chiba last week so we visited the original location of a popular restaurant in Daimon, Musashiya that serves garlic-stuffed tonkatsu!

This restaurant serves up Sangenton pork, which is a hybrid of pork made from 3 breeds of pigs (I guess it would be a tri-brid then?).  A typical tonkatsu teishoku (set meal) comes with a fried pork cutlet, cabbage, pickles, rice, and miso soup.  There’s usually a few sauces and seasonings on the table to add to your tonkatsu and cabbage – a heavier and thicker worcestershire sauce, a thinner worcestershire sauce, hot mustard, and salt.  Try them all and see what floats your boat!

Personally, I love the thinner worcestershire sauce on my cabbage, and mustard and salt on my tonkatsu because they don’t overwhelm the flavor of the pork.  Have you had tonkatsu?  What sauces do you add to it?

7422-1 Torami Ichinomiya, Chiba 299-4303

Japanese Street Food: The Savory

In mid-April when we hit Yasukuni Shrine to stroll among the crowds watching the cherry blossoms, I was ecstatic to find one of the biggest gathering of festival booths I’ve ever seen in Japan.  There must have been 30 or more stands showcasing a splattering of the typical Japanese food and games you find at festivals, but a lot more of it!  With so many dishes to talk about, I’ll cover the savory today and the sweet tomorrow.

A very popular street food in Japan is okonomiyaki, which is kind of like a savory pan fried pancake made with cabbage, eggs, bonito flakes, dried shrimp, seaweed flakes, and Japanese mayo.  I can never get over the beautiful bright golden egg yolks here.

One of my favorite foods I’ve discovered since moving here is Japanese Ayu.  They skewer it and grill it over charcoal.  You can eat it right off of the stick, and it’s sweet and juicy and usually filled with tasty roe.

More popular foods – yakisoba and grilled squid, which are great accompaniments with beer, sake, or shochu.

Yakitori skewers and shells grilled directly on the hot plate, often adding flavor with soy sauce and butter.

A close up of the shells on the grill:

And lastly, corn on the cob:

And no festival is complete without a few games for the kids.  Typically, there’s a traditional game where goldfish are placed in a tank and kids use nets to try and catch the fish to take home, but I didn’t see that this time.  Instead, I saw a Japanese version of a shooting game for prizes.  The shelves spin around with prizes, and if you are able to shoot the prize, you win!

More about the desserts tomorrow! :)

Santouka Tonkotsu Ramen

My first obsession with Japanese food began in LA, where my friends introduced me to Santouka Ramen.  Santouka originated in Hokkaido in 1988.  Since then, it has expanded to multiple locations across Japan, the US, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.  When I moved to Tokyo, trying this tonkotsu-based (pronounced: tohn-ko-tsoo; meaning: pork) ramen closer to its origins was first on my to-do list. The shio (pronounced: she-oh; meaning: salt) ramen is their original, but my favorite is their Tokusen Toroniku Ramen.

– Bar seating downstairs at Shibuya location –

– Toppings are served separately for Tokusen Toroniku Ramen –

– Ramen after toppings are added (sorry for the blur – I was too anxious to eat!) –

The difference between Tokusen Toroniku Ramen and other ramen on the menu is that it uses slowly-simmered pork cheek rather than regular cha-shu.  This part of pork is hard to find.  It’s tender and fatty and melts in your mouth!  Pork alone, the LA branches can’t compare to Japan.  In Japan, the fat is so well-blended into the ‘meaty’ part of the pork whereas in LA, there are chunks of fat.  I’ve heard that most of the franchises outside of Japan don’t live up to the same quality so make sure to visit if you’re in Japan!

Santouka. Multiple Locations.