Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with deep-fried pork cutlet) (カツ丼)

Katsudon is one of the Japanese rice bowl dishes, in which a bowl of rice is topped with a seasoned pork cutlet.

For one of the most typical katstudons, a deep-fried pork cutlet on the rice is cooked with tamagotoji (egg-drop sauce) prepared with soup stock, sugar, soy sauce and chicken eggs. Apart from this, there are many variations of pork cutlet rice bowls all over Japan.

Tamagotoji Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with deep-fried pork cutlet with egg-drop sauce)

The tamagotoji katsudon is currently one of the most typical katsudon in Japan. With the exception of some regions, the 'katsudon' simply means tamagotoji katsudon. The ingredients are onions and a pork cutlet, which are cooked with the warishita stock (the basic seasoning in Japanese cuisine prepared with soup stock, sugar, and soy sauce) and finished with beaten eggs poured over it.
(In some areas in Osaka cutlets are not cooked with the stock but are put on rice over which beaten eggs are poured.)
Some katsudon are decorated with chopped Japanese honewort or green peas which can also be lightly cooked with the other ingredients. Some say that the tamagotoji katsudon was invented by Keijiro NAKANISHI who was a student of Waseda University in 1921, while others believe that it was the invention of the owner of a soba restaurant Sanchoan located in Babashita-cho, Shinjuku Ward. The recipe is similar to tamagodon (a bowl of rice topped with soy-sauce-flavored scrambled eggs) and the oyakodon (a bowl of rice topped with chicken and eggs), and it can be regarded as a variant of the latter in which the chicken replaces the pork cutlet. The "katsudon" usually implies a pork cutlet as its topping. However, it can be also prepared with other breaded meat or fish and the like such as beef, chicken, minced meat, ham, prawns, oysters or fish. In some cases more than two cutlets are used. Katsudon with non-pork cutlets are usually specified by the names of such particular cutlets. For example, the tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant chain Katsuya offers chicken katsudons and minchi katsudons (bowls of rice topped with minced pork cutlets) are available in Tokumasa, a curry-udon (thick Japanese wheat noodles with curry soup) restaurant chain.

In a dish which however is not called "katsudon," the ingredients of the tamagotoji katsudon are not put on a bowl of rice but are served on a separate plate; this is called a 'wakare' (separate) style. This dish is generally called 'katsu-sara' (cutlet plate) or 'katsuni' (cutlet cooked with eggs and sweet soy sauce) although its name can vary from one restaurant to another: 'Atama Raisu' (literally, head rice) in 'Toyo-chan,' a restaurant in the Tsukiji Market or 'Dainuki' (a katsudon without a bowl of rice) in the 'Yanagi' restaurant in Osaka. Around Muroran City wakare is also called katsudon. In many katsudon restaurants in Osaka City such as 'Katsudon' and 'Matsuridaiko,' it is treated as a standard. In Okinawa Prefecture a tamagotoji katsudon somewhat like chanpon is available. Inexpensive eating places use pork cutlets as an ingredient of the Okinawan chanpon (stir-fried vegetables, meat and eggs with rice). Okinawan chanpon is rather greasy, but has a distinctive flavor.

Variations of Katsudon

There are many variations of katsudon. To a certain extent katsudon vary from one region to the next. Yet even in a region of tamagotoji katsudon culture one can sporadically find restaurants serving sauce katsudon (bowls of rice topped with pork cutlets with sauce). This suggests that the restaurant owners have been strongly influenced by their masters, etc.

Restaurants that serve katsudon other than tamagotoji katsudon often sell a set of katsudon in the form of the coupling of a tamagotoji katsudon with another.

Sauce Katsudon

The sauce katsudon is the source or origin of katsudon, namely 'a bowl of rice plus a pork cutlet.'
Despite being the original 'katsudon' it is nevertheless called the 'sauce katsudon' except in some places because today tamagotoji katsudon is more popular in Japan.
(Described below)

Typically, a pork cutlet is dipped in sauce (seasoning) before it is put on top of a bowl of rice. Alternatively, a pork cutlet is put on the bowl of rice over which Worcestershire sauce (which serves as the basis of the sauce mixed with ketchup, sake, etc.) is poured. For pork cutlets pork loin is primarily used but pork medallion is also possible. In the Cities of Komagane and Aizuwakamatsu shredded cabbage is spread over rice before a cutlet is placed. In the Fukui style, on the contrary, no shredded cabbage is used. There are such regional differences. This may perhaps have resulted from the yearly availability of cabbage or regional tastes of spicy or non-spicy sauce.

There are many theories about the origin of the sauce katsudon. There is however the following account. In the Taisho period, Masutaro TAKABATAKE, the first owner of the Western-style restaurant "Yoroppaken" in Tsurumaki-cho, Tokyo, across Waseda University premiered a sauce katsudon at a culinary convention held in Tokyo in 1913 and served it in the restaurant around 1917. This is the oldest recorded information on the sauce katsudon. To exclude hearsay, self-claimed inventors or conjecture, we can therefore assume at the present that this katsudon created by Yoroppaken in 1913 in Waseda, Tokyo (Masutaro TAKABATAKE) was the first katsudon. There is another account (which contradicts the foregoing) that in 1921 (or 1922 according to some) Keijiro NAKANISHI who was a student of the Waseda University Senior High School and others invented the sauce katsudon which then spread to restaurants around the School. Likewise, the restaurant 'Seiyotei' located in Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture is referred to as the inventor of the sauce katsudon.
(It was established in 1915 which does not necessarily coincide with the year when it started to serve katsudon.)
Furthermore, there are restaurants that claim to be the 'origin' or 'inventor' of katsudon in Komagane City, Nagano Prefecture, Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture, Ichinoseki City, Iwate Prefecture and so on. It is true that many stories about 'how the recipe came about' have been told in many places perhaps because it basically derives from a simple idea.

The presence and prevalence of sauce katsudon is limited to certain regions, and restaurants and areas that serve them are scattered across the country.

For the new dish "katsudon" publicized in Tokyo and spread around the Waseda area was brought back by restaurant owners to their hometowns and became the 'original' (in the regions).

Or as the pork cutlet became common, katsudon spontaneously began to be created in each region.

These two theories or their mixture is also a possible explanation for the origin of katsudon.

Yoroppaken which Takabatake opened in Tokyo (which might have moved to Yokosuka in 1917) was destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake in September 1923 and could not be rebuilt. This led him to return to his hometown Fukui Prefecture where he reopened Yoroppaken in January 1924, serving the katsudon he had created. For this reason in Fukui Prefecture the sauce katsudon has presumably become widespread as a local specialty around Yoroppaken. The Yoroppaken group made katsudon popular through its affiliated restaurants and branches. Consequently even now 'katsudon' naturally refers to the sauce katsudon in Fukui Prefecture.
Its variant with eggs, which today is more prevalent, is called 'tamago katsudon' or 'jo katsudon.'

Aside from Fukui, sauce katsudon are enjoyed as a local specialty in the Komagane City, Maebashi City, Kiryu City as well as Aizuwakamatsu City of Fukushima Prefecture.
Komagane City was particularly enthusiastic about proclaiming that its sauce katsudon was the 'original.'
As a part of its redevelopment, it advertised itself as 'the birthplace of the sauce katsudon,' which was often reported by the media to be its specialty.
Later Ina City adjacent to Komagane City began to call its katsudon sauce 'the original.'
This temporarily prompted a controversy involving even the mayors of the two cities.
In Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture, restaurants have formed the Aizu Society for the Traditional Sauce Katsudon to revitalize the town by advertising it as 'where cabbage was first included in the sauce katsudon.'

Domi Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with cutlet with demi-glace)

The domi katsudon is a local specialty of Okayama City. It is also called demi katsudon. For the domi katsudon a cutlet dipped in demi-glace sauce is placed on rice. Domi katsudon is characterized by shredded cabbage spread over rice with the toppings of green peas and a raw egg. The base of the sauce runs the gamut from fond de veau to Chinese chicken soup stock or Japanese soup stock with boiled dried fish. Domi katsudon are often eaten together with ramen noodles. Domi katsudon has been confirmed in Tokyo, too. Reportedly, they originated in a Western-style restaurant in Ikebukuro, whose disciples have spread the recipe. For the Tokyo domi katsudon demi-glace sauce is poured over a freshly deep-fried pork cutlet on rice.

In Osaka City the beef katsudon (bowl of rice topped with a beef cutlet) may come with a demi-glace flavor although it is not called domikatsu-don.

Kakogawa City, Hyogo Prefecture has a local specialty called 'Katsumeshi' or 'Katsuraisu' similar to the domi katsudon. This dish is served in a large plate for curry rice though prepared with almost identical ingredients in a nearly similar manner to domi katsudon. Refer to the 'Western-style katsudon' below.

Tare Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with cutlet with soy sauce)

The tare katsudon is served with a soy-sauce-based sauce. It is a dish in Niigata City. It is a simple bowl of rice topped with a thin pork cutlet dipped in a soy-sauce-based sauce. It is very straightforward without any egg or cabbage, resembling the tendon (bowl of rice topped with tenpura). Some tare katsudons come with two slices of cutlets, one between the rice and the other on top of it. Non-citizens of Niigata Prefecture may mistake tare katsudon for the sauce katsudon because of its appearance. The first owner of the restaurant 'Tonkatsu Taro' in Niigata City invented tare katsudon in 1945. This restaurant is cited under its real name in the comics "Dokaben" and "Cooking Papa."

Tonkatsu Taro is an ordinary tonkatsu restaurant, not necessarily specializing in katsudon with a soy-sauce-based sauce. This special katsudon is just one among the many dishes on the menu though it is ordered by most of the customers. Note that the restaurant chain 'Tonkatsu Taro' whose headquarters is located in Ojiya City, Niigata Prefecture is not the same as the one mentioned above. Tatsuo KAMON has published a song implying that he had a sauce katsudon in Niigata. It is highly likely that he mistook tare katsudon for the sauce katsudon.

Kunneppu-cho, Hokkaido has such a type of katsudon; a little bit unlike the tare katsudon in Niigata, the sauce is poured over the freshly deep-fried pork cutlet placed on top of the dried laver spread over the rice. This type of katsudon is so popular in Kunneppu-cho that the people from this town find tamagotoji katsudon which is more common outside the town very peculiar. It was invented by 'The Restaurant Fukuyoshi' near Kunneppu Station. Some cooks trained in the restaurant have become independent to open their own restaurants in the town.
That is why it has become one of the town's specialties as 'Kunneppu katsudon.'

Miso Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with cutlet and miso sauce)

Miso katsudon is a dish in Nagoya City. For miso katsudon a sauce seasoned with Haccho miso (bean paste) and sugar, etc. is poured over a cutlet. Shredded cabbage is also added as a garnish.

Shio Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with salty cutlet)

A case of a shio katsudon has been reported in Okayama City. A cutlet seasoned with salt is simply put on a bowl of rice without any sauce.

Oroshi Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with cutlet with grated daikon radish)

Apart from salt and pepper used before a pork cutlet is deep-fried, the otherwise unseasoned cutlet is put on a bowl of rice and a mound of grated daikon radish is added. One can add ground red pepper, a mixture of ground pepper and other spices, white soy sauce, strong soy sauce, citrus juice, shredded dried laver or finely chopped spring onions according to one's taste. Oroshi katsudon is becoming a common dish around Osaka. Many restaurants offer 'wakare' (in which the toppings are not put on a bowl of rice but are served in the sauce pan in which they are cooked). Oroshi katsudon can be also served cold.

Curry Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with cutlet with curry)

Curry katsudon is the one in which curry is poured over a bowl of rice topped with a cutlet. It is closer to katsu curry (curry rice with a cutlet). Restaurants that mainly serve curries may refer to a curry katsudon as 'katsu curry don' (curry rice with a cutlet served in a bowl of rice).

Western-style Katsudon

Western-style katsudon is a dish in which a mixture of hashed beef, ketchup, soy sauce, etc. or demi-glace sauce is poured over a cutlet on rice. Well-known Western-style katsudon are those served by the (now closed) restaurant in the department store 'Matsuya' which used to be in Omuta City, Fukuoka Prefecture or which are available around Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture. They are close to 'katsumeshi' in Kakogawa City, Hyogo Prefecture.

Western-style katsudon is a name with which to refer to the non-standard katsudon such as sauce katsudon in regions where the 'tamagotoji katsudon' is most common and hence it is simply referred to as 'katsudon.'
Conversely, in regions where 'sauce katsudon' is most popular and is therefore simply called 'katsudon,' the tamagotoji katsudon is designated 'ni katsudon' (a bowl of rice topped with a stewed cutlet) to distinguish it from the standard sauce katsudon.

Tomato Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with cutlet in tomato sauce)

Tomato katsudon is a dish in which a vinegary sauce with stewed tomatoes and onions is poured over a pork cutlet on rice.

It is one of the dishes served by 'Matsuridaiko,' a restaurant specializing in katsudon (in Osaka City).

Ni Katsudon (bow of rice topped with stewed cutlet)

In Yamanashi Prefecture and Niigata Prefecture, the ni katsudon refers to katsudon. It is very much like the common tamagotoji katsudon with a soy sauce flavor. The batter is very soggy as the cutlet is cooked slightly longer than usual. Moreover, katsudon in Yamanashi Prefecture and Niigata Prefecture refers to katsudon in which shredded cabbage is spread beneath the cutlet seasoned with Worcestershire sauce.

Ebi Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with prawn cutlets)

Ebi katsudon is where the pork cutlet is replaced with prawn cutlets. Some restaurants serve deep-fried prawns instead of prawn cutlets.

Beef Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with beef cutlet)

Beef katsudon is where a pork cutlet is replaced with a beef cutlet. They are served in the Kansai region. In restaurants specializing in beef dishes, 'katsudon' means 'beef katsudon' without any special notice.

Chicken Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with chicken cutlet)

Instead of a pork cutlet, chicken katsudon is topped with a chicken cutlet.
In restaurants specializing in chicken dishes, chicken katsudon are served as 'katsudon.'
They are often among the bentos sold at convenience stores.

Other Katsudons

Some individual restaurants offer tonkatsu dishes combined with cheese, kimchis (Korean pickles), etc. Such katsudons are generally referred to as 'kawari katsudon' (unconventional katsudon). Even vegetarian katsudon is not impossible if bean curd cutlets and egg substitutes are used.

Katsudon in Okinawa Prefecture
In Okinawa Prefecture katsudon is available in inexpensive eating places. Cutlets are topped with vegetables like carrots, onions, bean sprouts, cabbage, green peppers, etc., stewed, stir-fried or prepared with a thick sauce. They are characterized by rich seasoning, and eggs are not always used.

Katsudon stories

Katsudon used to be a rare treat for common people some time during the post-War period when Japan was not a rich country. In the interrogation room scene of a detective story made around that time, a low-paid detective orders katsudon out, pays for it, and lets the suspect eat it, saying "You'll never be able to eat it once you're in jail;" moved by his kindness, the suspect begins to confess to his crime.
However, a caricatured version of this motif became widespread, so that the episode of 'the humane detective who believes in the suspect doing him a special favor although he should not' came to be misinterpreted to mean that 'katsudon is served during police interrogation' or 'the suspect can eat katsudon if he confesses.'
Normally, the custodial suspect is offered special bentos, and he always takes meals at fixed times in jail. No food is therefore offered in the interrogation room where he might devise an escape by throwing a bento at the detective and catching him off guard. Even if a meal is served during interrogation, its expense must be borne by the suspect. If it is paid by a policeman, this may be taken as the dispensation of favors and the voluntary nature of the suspect's confession may be refuted during the trial. The following example illustrates that a suspect paid his expense for a meal during the police interrogation.
In custodial interrogation with regard to his violent assault of the editors of the popular magazine "Friday," when told to have a meal by the detective, Takeshi BEAT ordered a katsudon, saying 'when it comes to food during interrogation, I can think nothing but that.'
After he finished the katsudon he was requested to pay for it.
(Reportedly, the detective said to him, '600 yen in total.')
Later he sarcastically quipped, 'Had I known that I had to pay for it myself, I wouldn't have ordered it.'
(Based on "Takeshi BEAT's All Night Nippon, 1987" aired on June 25, 1987)

It seems that the ordered food was katsudon because historically speaking, one of the most popular restaurants by which the police have food delivered is the soba restaurant, and what the restaurant can serve, what neither intervenes in the interrogation schedule nor becomes soggy over time, but remains tasty even when cold is presumably katsudon.

On September 6, 2006 a captain of the Tokorozawa Police Station in Saitama Prefecture was reprimanded with a pay cut of 10% (for three months) for allowing a suspect to eat a katsudon in the interrogation room. (The captain resigned on the same day.)
The katsudon in question was brought in by some acquaintances of the suspect's parents. According to the regulations of the police station, however, the suspects must eat in jail, which the captain did not observe. (However, unlike in the episode of the drama mentioned above, the captain let the suspect who belonged to an organized crime syndicate meet his visitors not in the interview room, but in the interrogation room as he thought that he might gain information instrumental to the future investigation. This caused the police station to take severe disciplinary action on the captain.
Katsudon in the interrogation room was not the sole reason.)

Students sitting for entrance examinations or athletes before a match often eat katsudons a day before or on the day of such an event, believing in the auspicious homophony between the words, 'katsu' (to win) and 'katsu' (cutlet) which might bring them luck. Depending upon when to eat, however, this might prove counter productive as it takes some time to digest cutlets.

The theme of the 2007 Fukui Machinaka Film Festival was the sauce katsudon.

Reijiro KATO, a cartoonist, was born into the family of Sanchoan in Takadanobaba, a legendary restaurant where katsudon was created.

[Original Japanese]