Embassy of Japan in the U.K. posts video explaining what katsu is and isn’t, and we delve into the non-pork varieties.

The purpose of an embassy is two-fold. Its first mission is to assist and protect citizens of its home country while abroad, but just as important is its role in representing and sharing its home-country culture with citizens of its host countries.

In pursuing that second objective, the embassy of Japan in the U.K.’s official English-language Twitter account has put out an informative video explaining what the Japanese food katsu is…and also what it isn’t. Recently, there’s been a stubborn perception in the U.K. that “katsu” is a type of Japanese curry, but the truth is actually very different, as the video shows.

So nope, katsu isn’t a kind of curry. You can have curry without katsu, and you can also enjoy katsu in a variety of ways that are completely curry-free.

It’s pretty easy to keep straight as long as you know the etymology of the word katsu, which is actually a corrupted pronunciation of the English word “cutlet.” Katsu and cutlet might seem worlds apart, but in the Japanese language almost all consonants have to be followed by a vowel, and even then, a number of consonant-vowel combinations that would be possible in English, like “tu,” don’t exist. Because of that, “cutlet” became “katsuretsu,” and while a mouthful of “katsuetsu” is a delicious thing to eat, the four-syllable word is a bit of a mouthful to say, so nine times out of ten “katsuretsu” gets shortened to just “katsu.”

So if you put a cutlet on some curry rice, then that’s not “katsu,” it’s “katsu curry.” A cutlet on top of a donburi/bowl of rice? Katsudon. And a cutlet between two slices of bread? That’s a katsu sando, since in the same way cutlet became katsuretsu and then katsu, in Japanese “sandwich” became “sandouicchi,” which then gets shortened to “sando” for convenience.

But while the theme of the video is that katsu just means cutlet, there’s actually a little extra nuance to the word. Though you can slice and fry any kind of meat, when Japanese people say “katsu” they’re usually referring to a pork cutlet. Technically, “pork cutlet” should be “tonkatsu,” but “tonkatsu” refers to a pork cutlet served by itself, not on top of, in, or sandwiched by any other foodstuff.

▼ Tonkatsu

When you hear “katsu curry,” “katsudon,” or “katsu sando,” though, you can be sure that the cutlet you’re getting is a pork one. So what about other kinds of meat?
Beef: The Japanese word for beef is “gyuniku,” so a beef cutlet is “gyu katsu.” However, the English word “beef,” which becomes “bifu,” is also readily understood in Japan, so “bifu katsu” is another way to say “beef cutlet.”
Chicken: The Japanese word for chicken is “toriniku,” so a chicken cutlet should be “tori katsu,” right? Nope, sorry. For some reason, “tori katsu” never really caught on as a word, and instead everyone says “chikin katsu”/”chicken katsu.”
Shrimp: You may never have thought of the possibility of using shrimp to make a cutlet, but it’s a delicious creation that you can often find as part of a hamburger-bun sandwich at Japanese fast food restaurants. In the opposite situation from chicken katsu, although “shurinpu” (from “shrimp”) is a word in Japanese, for shrimp cutlets the sea creature’s Japanese name, “ebi,” is used, making the term “ebi katsu.”

▼ Gyu katsu

From there, the various cutlets all work like the standard katsu. Curry with beef cutlet? Gyu katsu/beef katsu curry. Chicken cutlet rice bowl? Chicken katsudon. Shrimp cutlet sandwich? Ebikatsu sando.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a very difficult decision to make now that we’ve reminded ourselves how many katsu-related options we have for lunch.

Source: Twitter/@JAPANinUK
Featured image: Twitter/@JAPANinUK
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s never felt bad while eating a katsu sando.