The Kojima family’s pork cutlet bowl recipe is both startlingly innovative and really, really old.

In a standard katsudon, or pork cutlet bowl, the cutlet is wrapped in omelet-like egg, for a tender, moist mouthfeel. Recently, though, there’s been a bit of a schism among katsudon fans in Japan, with some preferring the upstart style known as tojinai (“unbound”) katsudon, in which the meat and omelet are kept separate, resulting in a crispier texture when biting into the cutlet.

But on a recent stroll through Tokyo’s Ningyocho neighborhood, we came across an even more innovative style of katsudon…only to find out it actually predates the tojinai katsudon by more than a century.

Koharuken is a small, unassuming restaurant just a block away from Ningyocho Station. Their menu board has the typically tempting list of katsu specialty restaurant items, but in the bottom left corner is a photo of the “Koharuken Special Katsudon,” and it doesn’t look like a katsudon you’ll find anywhere else in Japan.

Traditionally, katsudon consists of a pork cutlet, egg, and rice. Maybe you might have some small shreds of onion mixed in with the egg, or some shredded cabbage if it’s an eggless katsudon with sauce. But the Koharuken Special Katsudon’s photo shows it topped with a variety of cubed vegetables, a katsudon topping we’d never seen before.

So, naturally, we had to try it.

At 1,300 yen (US$9.90), which also gets you a side of miso soup with clams, it’s an affordable edible adventure, especially considering that Ningyocho is one of the more expensive parts of downtown Tokyo. It wasn’t until we had our Koharuken Special Katsudon in front of us that we realized it also splits the difference between the wrapped-in-egg katsu and the tojinai type by using a soft boiled egg, which you can eat by itself or break up to cover the rest of the bowl’s ingredients.

But like we mentioned above, while this was an unprecedented eating experience for us, the Koharuken Special Katsudon has been around for a long time…but with a catch. Koharuken was opened all the way back in 1912, when Japan was still in the Meiji period, by a man named Tanesaburo Kojima. Tanesaburo came up with the idea of adding cubed carrot, onion, green pepper, and potato to his restaurant’s katsudon, but eventually, for reasons lost to antiquity, Koharuken’s unique take on the dish disappeared from the menu.

The Kojima family still runs the restaurant today, and when the fourth-generation owner, Yuji, took over in 1995, he decided he wanted to bring his great-grandfather’s version of katsudon back to the menu. There was only one problem: Yuji had never eaten the dish, and had only heard stories of it. Thankfully, there was one person still around who did have first-hand experience the dish, Yuji’s father, Mikio, who had eaten it as a boy when Tanesaburo, his grandfather, cooked it for him.

Based on Mikio’s childhood memories, Yuji was able to bring back the Koharuken Special Katsudon, and now it’s the most popular item on the restaurant’s menu.

The Koharuken Special Katsudon falls into the “sauce katsudon” sub-category, with the bite-sized pieces of meat treated with a sweet sauce with some spicy/salty notes to excite a wide range of your taste receptors. Breaking up the soft-boiled egg’s yolk adds a rich, creamy element too.

But of course, what really steals the show are the veggies. After being chopped, they’re stewed in demi-glace sauce, so they’re tender and flavorful.

Having eaten more katsudon than we can count in our lives, it took a few moments for our minds to wrap themselves around the concept of having so many vegetables with our pork cutlet bowl, the potatoes in particular, since they’re not so commonly used in traditional Japanese cooking (curry rice and nikujaga notwithstanding). But after two or three bites, any weirdness we were feeling was replaced by bliss at the straightforward deliciousness, and we’re happy this is one new-to-most-people recipe from over a hundred years ago that the Kojima family was able to bring back.

Restaurant information
Koharuken / 小春軒
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 1-7-9
Open 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m., 5 p.m.-7:45 p.m. (weekdays), 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m. (Saturdays)
Closed Sundays and holidays

Reference: Ryori Okoku, Machi Nihonbashi
Photos ©SoraNews24

● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]