Three great ways to enjoy katsu, but when you have to choose one, what’s your pick?

In Japanese, katsu means “cutlet,” and the king of katsu is the pork cutlet. The association between katsu and pork is so strong that when “katsu” is said by itself, it’s understood to mean pork cutlet, and you have to explicitly mention beef or chicken if you’re talking about those kinds.

So delicious and deservedly loved is the pork cutlet that they are no fewer than three incredibly popular ways to get your katsu fix in Japan: tonkatsu (a pork cutlet served by itself), katsudon (a pork cutlet rice bowl), and the katsu sandwich.

But which of these three is the king of katsu kings? That was the question on our mind at SoraNews24 the other day as we asked around the office to get our team’s take on whether tonkatsu, katsudon, or katsu sandwiches are the best, and over the sound of growling stomachs, here’s what our team had to say.

● Team Tonkatsu

As mentioned above, with tonkatsu, the pork cutlet is served by itself, generally accompanied by sides like white rice, shredded cabbage, and miso soup. Compared to katudon and katsu sandwiches, tonkatsu tends to have a more premium image (and higher prices).

“Out of the three, my favorite is tonkatsu. The reason why is that there are a lot of different ways to enjoy it. You can pour soy sauce on it, or the thicker, sweeter tonkatsu sauce. You can add a dash of salt or a dollop of hot mustard, or you can just eat it as-is. I also like katsudon and katsu sandwiches, but tonkatsu lets you match the seasoning to exactly what you’re in the mood for, even if that means the flavor of just the cutlet itself. It’s fun to try out different ways and find what you like best.” – Takashi Harada

“Katsudon and katsu sandwiches are both good too, but they’re both pretty easy to find as fast food (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). Tonkatsu feels more like a genuine luxury, the sort of thing to take your time eating and really savor, and that’s why I like it the best.” – Yuichiro Wasai

“Tonkatsu, but honestly I’m not all that into any of the three. With katsdon, the cutlet’s breading loses its crispiness and gets soggy [since katsudon includes egg or sauce]. Katsu sandwiches taste good, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to put a cutlet between slices of bread. So my choice is tonkatsu, even though it’s not something I really choose to eat on my own.” – Mr. Sato

“Tonkatsu is the best! You get the crispy breading and the most flavor of the pork itself! But I love katsudon too, even though it feels really different from tonkatsu.” – Yoshio

● Team Katsudon

Katsudon gets its name because it’s a kind of donburi, or rice bowl. Unlike tonkatsu, all the seasonings are added before serving, and you get the cutlet and rice in the same bowl, so that the flavors seep into the rice as you eat. Katsudon comes in two major varieties, with egg and with sauce, and is a mainstay at Japanese teishoku (set meal) and rice bowl restaurants, but surprisingly was the top katsu pick for only one of our writers.

“Unless it’s a really high-level tonkatsu served with just a pinch of salt, I’m going with katsudon. A katsu sandwich is my least favorite way to eat pork cutlet. Both the breading and the bread end up feeling so dry to me!” – Seiji Nakazawa

● Team Katsu Sandwich

And last, we come to katsu sandwiches, which are a sort of double fusion cuisine. Katsu came about from Japanese chefs adapting frying techniques following contact with foreign cultures, and then someone got the idea to use katsu in a sandwich Following Japanese sandwich preferences, katsu sandwiches always use thick, soft slices of bread with the crusts cut off, and they can be eaten hot or cold.

“Katsu sandwiches for me, since I usually gravitate more towards bread than rice! I really don’t like how with katsudon you end up with a bunch of soggy rice at the bottom of the bowl to slurp up.” – P.K. Sanjun

“Katsu sandwiches! Top-tier food visuals – just looking at the cross section of one gets my stomach growling. They’re my go-to pick when buying food at the station before a long train ride.” – Masanuki Sunakoma

As for me, I like all three, but have an especially soft spot for katsudon and katsu sandwiches. Out of the two, though, katsu sandwiches win by just a tiny margin. Ordinarily I’m more of a rice bowl guy than a sandwich guy, but while I think katsudon are one of many awesome donburi you can get in Japan, katsu sandwiches feel extra-special within the sandwich category. Like Masanuki, I’ve got lots of fond memories of grabbing a katsu sandwich at the station before hopping on the Shinkansen and setting out on a new travel adventure, or taking one to the park or some other outdoor spot on a day when I’m in the mood for something just a little luxurious to complement the fresh air, and I can’t remember the last time the combined mix of cutlet, bread, and sauce flavors disappointed.

Ah, before we wrap things up we should talk for a second about katsu curry. Yes, Japanese curry rice with a pork cutlet is amazing, but at least among Japanese foodies, katsu curry is generally a selection that gets made after you’ve already decided you want curry rice, as opposed to when your primary craving is for katsu. In other words, “katsu curry” is more of an answer to the question “What’s the best kind of curry?” then “What’s the best kind of katsu?” “What’s the best kind of curry?” is also, of course, a very important question, but it’s one that we’re going to have to address on a different day, because right now most of us on the SoraNews24 team can’t think of anything but katsu.

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