Funny as it may seem, I attribute plenty of fond memories to katsu. When my parents were introducing me to Japanese food, the very first dish they had me try was tonkatsu. The dish is basically breaded pork served with rice; I found it to be tasty and even kid-friendly, so it quickly became one of my favorite dishes.
The thing with katsu is that it can be a little tricky—when it’s good, it’s fulfilling, and when it’s lackluster, it leaves you feeling rather disappointed. I don’t think I’m alone here when I say that I’ve had my share of not-so-satisfying katsudon; I’ve exchanged sour looks with a friend or two at some point in my life thanks to paper-thin pork and thick, hard-to-chew breading.
And then, my cousin introduced me to Yabu: House of Katsu. Their katsu, in one word, is divine.
The first thing that you need to know about Yabu is that their servings are quite big. If you’re going to order several dishes, bring friends to share your blessings with—that’s what I did when my contact told me that we were going to be served a set menu. To help me finish the food, I brought along a mini-army consisting of Jin, Miguel and EJ, fellow Japanese culture enthusiasts and foodies. Our ratio for the night was seven (dishes) to four (people); I hope this gives you a pretty good idea as to how much to order when you visit Yabu.
Yabu was brought to the Philippines with the help of renowned chef Kazuya Takeda, the head chef of Tonkatsu Takenshin and expert on all things katsu. At first glance, the interior of the restaurant alone already speaks volumes of what Yabu is all about; the walls are decorated with large panels of a manga (Japanese comics) version of how their famous katsu came to be. There is nothing lavish about the food, furniture or the décor; I felt it was such a perfect tribute to the Japanese philosophy of minimalism and simplicity.
With our Iced Tea and Mango Shake
Before everything, we ordered some of their specialty drinks. Jin ordered their Bottomless Iced Tea (P95) while I ordered a Ripe Mango Shake (P100). Afterward, we were taught how to prepare their special sauce, the restaurant staple that is guaranteed to go with all your meals. All you have to do is grind the sesame seeds in a counter-clockwise manner, pour the katsu sauce and you’re good to go!
To start, we were served with the crème de la crème of their katsu creations—the Kurobuta (90g – P515, 120g – P575). Served with Japanese rice, miso soup, pickles, fruit and unlimited raw cabbage salad, this dish is very special because the Kurobuta (Black Berkshire Pig) is the world’s finest pork. Being an avid fan of katsu, this dish easily became my favorite of the bunch due its tenderness and subtle burst of flavor. It may be pricey, but it is definitely the must-try at Yabu. You won’t be disappointed with the sidings, either; the cabbage salad mixed with sesame dressing serves as a delicious companion to your katsu.
We were also served another variant of pork katsu, which is called Hire (original – P335, special - P350). What makes this type of katsu different from the Kurobuta and the ordinary Rosu is that there is no fat attached to the pork. Breaking the cycle of the pork dishes, the Chicken Curry (P320) brought something new to the table. This homemade dish became another favorite among the members of my team because the delicious curry sauce was slow-cooked to perfection. It is a good dish even for those who may or may not be fans of spicy food; you can request your server to prepare the sauce milder or even spicier than the original blend if you wish.
Rounding out the six-course menu were the three seafood dishes. The Seafood Katsu Set 2 (P515) is a mix of black tiger prawns, scallops, cream dory, oysters and squid. It was the first time that we were able to eat shellfish katsu, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that katsu can go beyond the typical pork and chicken variants. The Ebi and Fish Special Katsudon (P365) is another unique-tasting dish that is slightly salty due to the fish flakes drizzled on top of the rice. It is an interesting break from the sweet sauce that is usually used for katsudon meals. Finally, we had the Creamy Crab (P115), one of their latest additions to the menu. I loved this because it had an Eastern-Western fusion vibe to it; the cream is complementary to crab, but does not overpower its taste.
Ebi and Fish Special Katsudon
What amazes me about Yabu is that despite the fact that everything is katsu, each new dish was still an adventure for us to eat. My friends and I were also surprised that we managed to finish everything among the four of us while still having room for dessert—that’s just how appetizing Yabu is. It’s a whole new perfect world for us because we are a spectacularly ridiculous bunch who sees plenty of joy in the simplest things, which is the gift that Yabu gives to its patrons.
From us to you: there is no other katsu.
Photos by Jin Joson.