This local restaurant makes customers’ dreams come true.

Three of the most popular dishes in Japan are tonkatsu, curry, and ramen, so when hunger strikes and thoughts turn towards what to eat, many people in Japan will likely think of these dishes.

However, as good as these meals are, most people wouldn’t think to combine all three together in one dish, but that’s exactly what a restaurant in Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture, has done, and as soon as we heard about it, we knew we had to try it.

▼ So we headed out to the restaurant, called Ota Shokudo.

Despite arriving early on a weekday, at 11:30 in the morning, just half an hour after it opened, the place was already busy with all the parking spaces outside almost completely full. Inside, the customer base looked to be mostly locals, with some already eating in the tatami mat seating area at the back and others, who’d arrived later, seated at Western-style tables near the entrance.

Upon entering the store, we heard a pleasant “welcome!”  being called out to us from the kitchen. Although the place was clearly busy, the customer service was pleasant, polite and energetic, making us feel welcome straight away, despite being first-time visitors from out-of-town.

We were seated straight away, and the relaxed, laid-back vibe of the place made it feel like a home-away-from-home as we perused the menu.

Gunma Prefecture is famous for its pork, which is said to have a particularly soft texture and delicate flavour, so you can expect to find it on the menu at a lot of restaurants in the area. Here at Ota Shokudo there were a wide variety of set meals containing fried pork, or tonkatsu as it’s known in Japanese, and though there was a lot to choose from, which was impressive for a small mum-and-pop-style eatery, we knew exactly what we wanted to order.

▼ The Katsu Curry Ramen, priced at 900 yen (US$6.02).

This stunning dish arrived just ten minutes after we ordered it, and it was served steaming hot, in a large bowl that was around 25 centimetres (9.8 inches) wide in diameter. It was overflowing with curry soup, with a freshly fried pork cutlet sitting in the centre like a delicious island, surrounded by colourful ingredients like chashu braised pork, naruto fish cake, and menma fermented bamboo shoots.

Taking a sip of the curry soup first, we were surprised by the taste, which was a lot smoother than expected. It was slightly sweet, with a sharp spiciness following afterwards, creating a familiar taste that felt both homely and somewhat nostalgic at the same time.

The chewy medium-thin noodles soaked up the soup perfectly, and when we slurped them up, they brought up some of the chopped green onions with them, creating a delicious blend of saucy, chewy and crunchy textures.

The pork cutlet had retained its crispy fried texture on the surface that was floating above the soup, allowing us to enjoy the contrast between crunchy top exterior and the softer, juicy, meaty textures that lay below.

▼ Interestingly, however, six to seven minutes after we started eating, we noticed a change in the tonkatsu, as it sank deeper into the curry, losing its crunchy exterior.

Though initially we thought this loss of crunch was a shame, after trying the curry-soaked meat we realised this new texture helped to unify the ingredients, creating an even more addictive flavour. The more we chewed, the more the meat juices oozed out into the curry, enhancing the taste.

Amongst the condiments on our table was a special sauce recommended for tonkatsu, so we poured some on and took a bite. The sweet and salty sauce was a beautiful partner for the pork, adding extra flavour and providing a slight acidic note that helped to provide a refreshing aftertaste.

Since there was such a large serving of noodles and curry in the bowl, the sauce was a great way to change up the flavour profile and keep the taste buds entertained while slurping up every last morsel. It was so tasty we managed to finish the entire thing in no time, and by the end we were left with a satisfied, full belly, and a sense of accomplishment for having found such a unique gourmet meal.

Ota Shokudo’s Katsu Curry Ramen is a truly exquisite combination of tonkatsu, curry and ramen, so be sure to stop by if you’re ever in the area. And if you’re looking for more noodle adventures in Gunma, don’t forget to check out this restaurant, which serves noodles so wide you have to fold them before eating them!

Restaurant information
Ota Shokudo / 太田食堂
Address: Gunma-ken, Maebashi-shi, Kasukawachozen 487-39
Open 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. (lunch); 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. (dinner in winter); 5:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m. (dinner in summer)
Closed Sundays and public holidays
Website (Instagram)

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[ Read in Japanese ]