The craving for crispy, deep fried pork seems to be insatiable in Metro Manila, as we've grown (bellies included, perhaps) witness to a katsu competition of sorts this year. Both local players and Japanese brands are opening shop, or revamping their menu to highlight the popular breaded pork cutlet. From budget-friendly versions to top of the line premium and imported counterparts, we hungry folk are lucky to have the power of choice whenever the katsudon craving strikes.
Tonkatsu by Terazawa, now open in Manila
One great way to learn and experience authentic katsudon, I discovered, is by having a Japanese chef with you to educate you about the deep fried delight. And not just any Japanese chef–but one that is truly, madly, deeply in love with katsudon. Tonkatsu by Terazawa recently opened in Greenbelt 2, and this first Philippine franchise of the Japan-based chain now calls Manila its other home, thanks to the Bistro Group. Chef Akinori Terazawa himself flew to the country to oversee the local operations, and to accommodate the questions of curious foodies about what katsudon is really all about.
Hand-painted Japanese characters and warm lighting surround you at Tonkatsu
Three little piggies adorn the wall
"Wait till you try my Tonkatsu!"
Chef Terezawa’s phrase for his katsu restaurant makes me simultaneously hungry and curious. This teaser line not only is stamped with the restaurant to entice customers, but also an indication of how much the Japanese chef vouches for his signature style of katsudon.
Chef Terezawa’s Kurobuta ('black hog') katsudon
First-timers at Tonkatsu by Terazawa are encouraged to order their Kurobuta Katsu. Kurubota pork comes from the oriental strains of the berkshire in Japan. Kurubota is raised in a farm environment, where they are fed grass and sweet potato. If the saying 'you are what you eat' is applied to these pigs, then we can consider them pretty special; Kurobota is after all touted as the finest pork in the whole world. With its meat notably juicy, flavorful, fatty and heavily marbled, this 'angus of pork' is expected to offer diners a memorable katsudon experience.
Get Our Newsletter
Tokusen Kurubota Rosu Katsu Set (P575 for 160g)
Tokusen Kurubota Ippon Hire Katsu Set (P575 for 160g)
Chef Terazawa uses the traditional Japanese method for tonkatsu; this includes aging the pork in-house by wrapping it in white cloth for several days. Chef explains that this procedure results in a more flavorful and juicy meat. "In other tonkatsu restaurants, they pound [the meat]," Chef says, referring to 'jaccarded' or pierced meat to tenderize. While this is the usual in Japan, in his restaurant they do not use this method. You can also order the two types of pork cutlet here– the hire (lean pork fillet) and rōsu (fatty pork loin). Being an advocate of the 'fat is flavor' campaign, I very much prefer the rōsu.
Chef Terazawa explaining how they age pork by wrapping it in cloth
Hire: pork tenderloin is leaner
Rosu: pork loin with fat
"The Japanese rice [is] very difficult," Chef Terazawa shares, explaining how the rice quality and method of cooking has evolved through time. As for the miso, he says that in Japan, there are two popular varieties of the soup. "In Tokyo, in Osaka, the miso soup is different. Tokyo is [the] brown one; Osaka the white one," he says. In Nagoya, the 'middle ground' and the chef's hometown, chef says that the brown and white miso is blended. Why? "I don't understand… This is history," he chuckled. He prefers the brown miso, so this is what's available in Greenbelt. He also stresses that miso soup is important in Japan, and mimicked how they would consume it: one bowl of rice in one hand, bowl of miso on the other. Plop the mound of rice on the miso bowl, stir with chopsticks, then dig in!
Tonjiru miso soup
Shredded cabbage with sesame dressing
At Tonkatsu by Terazawa, all Katsu sets are served with refillable Japanese rice, shredded cabbage and one bowl of Tonjiru, a special hot miso soup that is flavored with pork. Also at the restaurant, they serve the sesame seeds that pair with the blended Tonkatsu sauce differently. Chef has a sesame seed grinder that you rotate the handle of to make things easier and faster. He also feels that pounding the seeds with a mortar and pestle then mixing this with the sauce results in a too-heavy flavor and texture, which doesnt let the taste of the pork shine through. "And no smell," he adds, "sesame, the smell, very important," and he proceeds to demonstrate grinding the sesame seeds and placing them right on top of the meat. "Good smell," he points out, if you do this and then dip it on the salt and sauce afterwards.
Make the most out of the refillables!
Flavor up your Tonkatsu
Enjoy preparing your sauces, dips, and sides!
Try Chef Terazawa's suggestion: place the ground seeds right on your katsu
With so much intricacies and techniques involved in both preparing and consuming the tonkatsu, I asked Chef Terazawa how he eats his deep fried cutlets. "Just salt," he says, saying that this is how tonkatsu lovers consume it. "If you do this, you are professional," he quips.
Wafu Negioroshi Rosu Katsu Set (P425) tops up your cutlet with a saucy mix of radish and scallions
Other katsu best sellers are the Jumbo Ebifurai (P775, jumbo prawn set of 2 pieces) and Kakifurai (P395, oyster set of 5 pieces). Two imperial prawns perfectly breaded and fried made me question if I prefer these fried and juicy beauties over the classic tempura (I'm still quite torn). The deep fried oysters are imported from Japan just like the pork. A look into the plateful of golden brown pieces, one will notice that the oysters are bigger than its local counterpart. A bite reveals it to be extremely juicy inside. These deep fried seafood are also available ala carte: Oyster (P95/piece), Prawn (P135/piece), and Crab Croquette (P115/piece).
Jumbo Ebifurai, deep fried jumbo prawn set
Kakifurai, deep fried oyster set
Confused which katsu variety to order? Have a little of everything with their Iroiro Katsu, a deluxe set of assorted katsu. There is a prawn, pork loin and pork fillet set (Deluxe Katsu Set – P545); a prawn, pork loin and chicken roll set (P475); prawn, pork fillet and white fish set (Mixed Katsu – P475); prawn and hire katsu set (P490); and prawn and rosu katsu set (P485).
Iroiro Katsu: Prawn, Pork Loin & Chicken Roll Set
Save room for dessert: their Frozen Green Tea (P125) is a must for those craving for a sweet ending
Chef Akinori Terazawa's love for Tonkatsu is evident in every bite of his crispy, deep fried creations, and in our conversations over lunch—albeit mostly in broken English and with the aid of a translator, the way the chef's eyes light up and his hands move animatedly show you how passionate he his about his restaurant's offering. For the Tonkatsu lovers that are Katsu-curious about this new player in town, it's time to add his restaurant in your must-try list!