When you begin to suspect that your bowl is a portal to the pork dimension…

As we grow older, our chances to take risks will diminish. Instead of seeing the inherent delight in drinkable whipped cream, you might demur, saying that you would rather just have a healthy herbal tea. You come to ignore the ominous unlabeled vending machine and refuse to risk any money to see what’s inside. You may be safer and better off for that…but is that really what life is all about?

Our Japanese-language reporter K. Masami, fresh off of taking some fun challenges of her own, decided she ought to live a little. And that’s why she headed out to the Kokkyo Shokudo (National Border Diner) to attempt to eat their infamously huge pork cutlet tonkatsu bowl.

▼ The diner is located right between the borders of Nara and Kyoto.

With its neatly tiled roof and bounty of paper lanterns hanging inside, the Kokkyo Shokudo has a great atmosphere that recalls a time long past. The menu, too, is daubed in thick, scratchy black ink just like they did in the good old days. Masami’s eyes zoomed straight to her target—the Katsudon (Large), priced at 1,100 yen (US$10.02).

▼ Even the prices are hand-written, and in kanji to boot.

The large katsudon only costs a paltry 220 yen more than a standard katsudon. This will lull you into a false sense of security that the large katsudon must not be that large in comparison. Think again!

▼ The large katsudon sitting next to the regular katsudon, which is pretty hefty itself.

As delighted as Masami was to be taking the plunge into this prodigious platter of pork, she recognized that she might balk at the large tonkatsu bowl once actually faced with it. To prevent this from happening, she enlisted a cheerleader who could rally her efforts and—in case it all proved too much—finish her bowl off for her.

“I’ve already eaten the large tonkatsu bowl a whole bunch of times,” her friend said reassuringly. Then he placed an order for some small udon noodles. Masami was a bit worried that they might fill him up too much to help her, but apparently, this guy has a stomach of iron.

▼ This is practically an appetizer for him.

But anyway, here’s what the staff brought out in its full glory. This tremendous rice bowl has a diameter of 25 centimeters or 9.84 inches.

Masami took her spoon in hand and began to attack this mighty foe. Quickly, she realized she might have bitten off more than she could chew…this was truly a fearsome amount of deep-fried, breaded pork cutlet. Even when she used her chopsticks to scoop up large chunks of cutlet, more cutlet would appear to fill in the gap, much like water will rush in to fill in a hole that you dig into some wet sand.

The good news? It tasted incredible. Sizzling with hot fat and robed in luxurious, thick egg, the pork was tender and delicious. Its flavor spread throughout Masami’s mouth with every bite. It was so tasty that she kept coming back for more and more of it automatically.

▼ A waiter estimated the large tonkatsu dish contains around 400 grams, or 0.88 pounds, of fried pork cutlet.

Alas, as willing as her spirit was, Masami could tell that there was no way on earth she could finish this dish alone. The real problem was the pillowy bed of white rice, which refused to diminish no matter how frantically she scooped it into her mouth.

So she tagged out and allowed her professional katsudon-devourer pal to take over. He made short work of her leftovers, but as he sat back in his seat he did mutter that it was much more challenging to finish a large serving now that he was in his forties.

▼ “It went down easier when I was younger.”

Oh, and by the way, the regular katsudon dish comes with just as much rice as the large serving. Masami ate enough rice at the restaurant in a single sitting that it sustained her through the entire rest of the day. And as she looked around, she could see many patrons sitting with large, emptied katsudon bowls. They seemed happy, healthy, and satisfied too.

Though it may have proven too much for her, she definitely recommends that you try out this ridiculous behemoth of panko-fried pork and rice for yourself. Just make sure to bring a big appetite with you!

Restaurant information
Kokkyo Shokudo / 国境食堂
Address: Nara-ken, Nara-shi, Narazakacho 2611-5
Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (last orders 9:30 p.m.) — please note that business hours may change depending on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
Closed Tuesdays

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