Two really good tonkatsu restaurants we visited in Japan

One of my favourite Japanese dishes is tonkatsu. Tonkatsu or panko crusted deep-fried pork cutlets is a dish similar to a schnitzel with juicy pork covered by a crunchy panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) crust. 

During our recent trip to Japan, we had tonkatsu twice; once at Wako, where we went last time in Tokyo, and once at Maisen, a place I’ve been reading about a lot and what usually show up when you google “Tokyo’s best tonkatsu”.

Wako tonkatsu in Kyoto Station
We went to Wako in Kyoto Station, situated on the upper floors of the Isetan department store inside the station. Bonus trivia is that you can go outside from the restaurant floor where Wako is and up a couple of stairs/escalators to reach a nice rooftop area with views over Kyoto, although with a wall in the way of proper photos.

At Wako we opted to try one of the more expensive premium versions of pork for our tonkatsu. I believe the cost was around 1800 jpy, meaning roughly $16. According to the staff, it was juicier with a higher fat content and hence slightly more expensive. After a round of frosty beer mugs, our tonkatsu arrived. Since the tonkatsu came as a set meal, which it usually does in Japan, we also got rice, pickles, cabbage slaw and grated daikon radish. The tonkatsu pork cutlet was, just as advertised, nicely fatty and soft, as well as the breading crunchy. A nice thing with tonkatsu is that it, when done properly, lacks almost any excess oil. So given the relative healthiness of the sides, it doesn’t feel that bad to eat. Despite being a couple of hundred grams of deep-fried fatty pork. Wako’s tonkatsu is a really nice one and in my mind well worth a visit.

Price ($$) and website
We paid roughly 2500 yen a person with premium pork tonkatsu set meals and a beer. Website with sample menu in English (scroll down to Kyoto and then Wako JR Isetan for address): click here.


Next place to enjoy tonkatsu was, as mentioned above, the legendary Maisen or Mai-Sen. We went to their outlet close to Tokyo Station in Daimaru shopping mall, located on the 12th floor. Bonus trivia for this place is that the view from the restaurant floor’s restrooms is quite spectacular. We went quite late, so we could snap a few sneaky restroom pictures since no one else was there.

Bathroom views from the restaurant floor of Tokyo Daimaru shopping mall.

Anyway, the food. As per usual, we ordered a round of beers and a set meal each, opposed to Wako, this time with fillet instead of loin, meaning slightly less fatty meat and also a slightly smaller amount. I think it was 100 grams of fillet instead of 150 grams of loin, for the same price. The tonkatsu was served with rice, miso soup and cabbage slaw with a tasty lemony yuzu dressing. Once again, the breaded pork was not at all oily from the deep-frying. The meat was slightly less juicy compared to Wako, but that did not really matter as the crust was so crunchy and delicious. It actually felt more balanced than with the premium high fat content-pork tonkatsu at Wako, since it was almost overwhelming with both fatty pork and being deep-fried.



Katsusando from Maisen. Tonkatsu in white toast bread. Good stuff.

Maisen’s katsusando – tonkatsu sandwich at Tokyo Foodshow
Another thing we tried and that you probably should too if you like tonkatsu is Maisen’s katsusando. Katsusando is a tonkatsu sandwich, which means sliced cold tonkatsu in a white bread sandwich with some tonkatsu sauce spread on. We had Maisen’s katsusando that we bought at Tokyo Foodshow in Shibuya, a whole floor of food where different outlets sell their different types of food and where you can both pick up take-away as well as dine in at a couple of communal stand up tables.

Price ($$+) and website
Maisen is slightly more expensive that for instance Wako, and we paid about 1600 yen a person for one of the cheaper set meals on the menu. Maisen’s website, only in Japanese. Address (google maps link).

Kobe beef dinner at Gyu-an Ginza


One of the best meals of the trip, and probably one of my best meals ever was enjoyed at Guy-An in Ginza, Tokyo. Guy-An specialise in meat, as in good quality stuff, such as wagyu beef and the world famous kobe beef. After quite thorough research we decided that Guy-An felt most bang for the buck for our relatively tiny kobe beef budgets and we managed to score a reservation with the help of our hotel concierge a few days later.

As we arrived Guy-an, after a stroll through the neon lit Ginza district of Tokyo, they couldn’t find our reservation, and I had a few seconds of panic, before they found us a table, and my greatly anticipated steak dinner was, fortunately, a go. While prices are decent given what you get, there is still a considerable price for a meal, depending how you look at it. To have some reference, and to save some money, the two of us decided to share a slightly less pricey wagyu steak set menu as well as the swankiest of the kobe sets which meant you got 200 grams, 100 grams each of kobe fillet and kobe sirloin. Included was a couple of starters, a tiny dessert (below) as well as coffee or tea. Drinks were extra but was relatively decently priced.


We had a couple of starters, but the only really exciting one was this incredibly delicious beef sushi with a thin, fatty piece of beef covering the rice. A great bite that like the beef was washed down with house red.


The matsusaka wagyu beef was just a tad less delicious than the kobe beef. Hadn’t I had the kobe beef, this would’ve been the best steak I’ve ever had. Extremely flavourful and tasty with a great tender texture.

The steak of steaks. Kobe beef fillet and sirloin. Not really sure which one I liked the best. The fillet was of course a bit leaner and softer than the sirloin, but that was barely noticeable given how tender both were. The fat in the kobe beef is not at all chewy, but rather melts in your mouth. The best comparisson I’ve been able to make is, to think of how you bite into a ripe mandarin orange and how it kind of bursts with fruit juice when you bite into it. This was like that, only that the fruit juice was kobe beef fat. It was incredibly good. It was also incredibly rich, and it was almost a struggle to eat everything given the two starters, rice, soup and salad that you are also served. No doubt this was the best steak I have ever had. My expectations were really high. I’ve been eating some really good meat the last years, churrasco in Brazil, grilled bife de chorizo in Argentina and great French steak au poivre. But this beat them all, easily.


For dessert we were served three perfect strawberries. Although it is almost insulting calling this a dessert in normal cases, we were so full that we did not really mind. And the strawberries were in fact extraordinarily tasty.

Price and location
We paid roughly $280 for our two steak meals (one wagyu at 8500 jpy, one kobe combo at 15500 jpy), a caraff of red wine, and water. The restaurant is located in Ginza, easily accessible with a couple of subway lines.

Delicious sushi at Musashi kaiten sushi in Kyoto


The best sushi, and unfortunately one of the only times we had any during the trip, was at Musashi Sushi in Kyoto. The sushi is served kaiten style, which means the chefs make sushi and then put it on a conveyor belt which diners are conveniently placed around, and then you make your pick as it passes by you.

At Musashi, you can also ask the chefs to make you special ones if your favourite is constantly taken by the couple just before you. I’m not saying that this in fact did happen, just that it could have. 🙂


We sampled lots of different sushi at Musashi, for instance ones with roasted beef, melt-in-your-mouth fatty tuna belly, lobster in mayo, tuna and quail egg yolks and grilled unagi eel sushi. Everything was really delicious, the beer was as always served ice cold in iced beer mugs and the prices were quite good too. Your check is calculated by the number of plates of a certain colour you have on your table.


Lobster salad sushi.

Steak sushi.


Grilled sweetish unagi eel sushi.

Great ramen at Kairikiya in Kyoto

After finding our Air Bnb accomodation, food was on our minds. After some searching, our first meal in Kyoto was a delicious bowl of ramen at Kairikiya in central Kyoto. The place is part of a chain spread over Japan. We had a bowl of miso ramen, karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and fried gyoza (dumplings). Everything was very delicious and was celebratory washed down with an ice cold glass of Japanese beer. A very nice thing in Japan is that the beer always during our trip came in frosted glasses.


Delicious gyoza served on the side.
Miso ramen with pork, green onion and perfectly cooked creamy eggs. Delicious.

Kairikiya’s ramen was maybe not the best I’ve ever had (I will post about that one soon), but nevertheless a really tasty ramen. We went for lunch, and the place was almost full so we were not alone in enjoying the place.

Price and place
Located in central Kyoto. Prices were quite low. Around 1000 jpy per person for a ramen bowl, a couple of shared sidedishes and a beer.
Click here for website with menu (in English).

 

Homemade soy flavoured pulled chicken ramen noodle soup

The other day I watched Netflix’s Chef’s Table about American chef Ivan Orkin that moved to Japan, and opened a ramen joint that quite quickly was named one of the best in Japan. This made me want to move to Tokyo and open my own restaurant too, but since that won’t be happening anytime soon, I decided it at least was ramen cooking time at home.

What you need (for approximately 2-3)

Noodles, we used Nissin’s brand premium ramen noodles. About a third of a package for two.

200 grams of shiitake mushrooms

450 grams of chicken thighs

4 sprigs of spring onion

4-5 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons of finely chopped ginger

4-5 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce

1 tablespoon of Sriracha hot sauce (can be excluded)

2-3 chicken stock cubes (or make your own)

Water

3 eggs, semi-soft boiled (see picture above)

Sesame oil, or cooking oil

How to cook it

1. Peel and finely chop garlic, the white stems of the spring onion and the ginger.

2. Fry chopped vegetables in oil on medium heat in a cooking pan until soft, do not brown.

3. Add chicken thighs to the fried vegetables, you do not need to trim as you’ll do that during the “pulling”. Let cook for a couple of minutes till chicken’s a bit coloured.

4. Add soy sauce, stock/stock cubes and hot sauce. Stirr occassionally and let simmer for about an hour on medium heat. Add water if needed, if soup gets too reduced.

5. When an hour has passed, slice the shiitake mushroom caps. Also keep the stems. Add both to the soup and continue to simmer.

6. Meanwhile mushrooms cook, it is time to pull the chicken thighs. Remove them from the broth and shredd them with two forks until ‘pulled’. Remove any remaining sinews, bones or similar. Then put the pulled chicken back into the soup.

7. Cook noodles until just cooked (eg. ‘Al dente’) since they’ll be in the broth which will make them cook a little bit more.

8. Serve! Add the noodles to bowls, pour over broth (remove the shiitake stems if you’re sensitive, they are a bit chewy). Top with the finely sliced green part of the spring onions and egg halves. Enjoy!