We harness the power of dagashi to create the “in-quotation-marks katsudon.”

Our Japanese-language reporter Ahiru Neko is a big fan of pork cutlets, or pork katsu, as they’re called in Japanese. He’s particularly fond of the cutlets at casual restaurant Katsuya, and so he was especially happy to show up at SoraNews24 headquarters one day and find a package from the chain addressed to him.

Wondering what could be inside, he opened the box up and found five flat packets.

There’s a pork cutlet pictured at the top of the wrapper, but these are not individually sealed katsu. Instead, they’re Ichimai Katsu, or “Katsu Sheets,” a snack created through a tie-up between Katsuya and Natori, a maker of dagashi, or old-school Japanese snack foods.

Ichimai Katsu may look like a flattened pork cutlet, but it’s actually a breaded fish cake. Imitation katsu like this is one of the most enduringly popular types of dagashi, loved both by little kids munching on them after school and adults looking for an inexpensive savory snack to pair with a cold beer.

There are two things that make the Katsuya Ichimai Katsu special, though. First, at 22 centimeters (8.7 inches) in length, it’s huge.

▼ The Katsuya Ichimai Katsu, which recently went on sale at Japanese convenience stores, on the left, and Natori’s standard-size Big Katsu dagashi on the right.

Second, the Katsuya Ichimai Katsu’s flavor is listed as “Katsuya Katsudon.” In other words, it’s not just supposed to taste like pork, but like a full-on katsudon/pork cutlet bowl from Katsuya. “Using Katsuya’s flavorful cooking stock, plus seasonings that recall the aroma of the gently sweet egg and onions, we have recreated the flavor of Katsudon’s katsudon!” boasts Natori.

It’s a bold claim, but one that Ahiru Neko was quite happy to test. However, he didn’t want his taste buds to be affected by how the Ichimai Katsu looks, so he decided to do a blind tasting.

Grabbing the massive imitation katsu in both hands, Ahiru Neko took a bite, and in his mind’s eye…

…he had an ephemeral vision of a Katsuya pork cutlet bowl. It wasn’t enough to make him think he was actually eating a full katsudon, but it was definitely closer to the real thing than other types of imitation katsu dagashi, which are seasoned with sweet sauces or curry powder. Instead, the Katsuya Ichimai Katsu’s flavor is a mix of salty and sweet notes, not unlike the combination of tastes in a katsudon’s flavor profile.

Ahiru Neko wondered if there was a way to bring the Ichimai Katsu closer to an exact flavor match for katsudon, and he quickly had an idea. If you want your snack to taste like a rice bowl…

…why not put your snack on top of a bowl of rice?

After all, Natori’s description of the Ichima Katsu mainly talks about recreating the flavor of all the katsudon ingredients aside from the rice.

This upgrade would also allow Ahiru Neko to get some imitation katsu and white rice in the same mouthful. This made it feel more like he was eating a real katsudon, and this time the mental image of a pork cutlet bowl that appeared in his brain was a little more defined.

Because the Ichimai Katsu is so big, Ahiru Neko even had enough left for a second revision.

For Round 3, he splashed on a bit of dashi bonito stock and soy sauce, plus some water, and added some actual egg, resulting in what he decided to call “in-quotation-marks katsudon.”

This turned out to be the best of the bunch, by far the closest to katsudon.

It wasn’t just the flavor that got a boost in Round 3, though, but the texture too. The added liquid from the dashi and soy sauce had softened up the Ichimai Katsu, which comes out of the package pretty crispy, giving it a meatier consistency closer to pork.

Sure, it still wasn’t an exact match, but it’s impressively close for something that isn’t even actually pork. If an actual katsudon feels like the photo on the left, Ahiru Neko’s final form Ichimai Katsu imitation katsudon felt like the photo on the right.

It’ll quell his cravings in a pinch, even if he’ll probably still be in the mood for an actual katsudon the next time he gets hungry.

Photos © SoraNews24
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