9.5 | 3 | 2.5 | 2
- The best Tonkatsu in Tokyo, likely the world
- Watching the Chef was a performance in itself, like a highly trained Sushi Itamae at work
- The wait. But then again, pork prepared and cooked to order takes time
- Cash only
- Kiramugi or Aguu Breed Pork Tonkatsu (if you’re willing to splash out)
- Signature 3cm Thick Cut Tonkatsu
TL;DR – Skip Tonki Tonkatsu; the best Tonkatsu in Tokyo, and possibly the world is at Narikura. The batter may be better at Tonta Tonkatsu, but the pork is better at Narikura. Be prepared to wait (in line and for food) and you’ll be rewarded with a highly skilled chef making Tonkatsu with some of the finest pork in the world.
The 3 words that blurt out of my mouth upon my first bite, my mind too absorbed in processing how this mere piece of pork could taste so great to provide coherent sentences. But why was I here, having mindblowingly good Tonkatsu? To answer that, we must go back a step.
I didn’t always like Tonkatsu. After all, what was there to like? A deep fried thin piece of chewy pork that made cardboard seem juicy by comparison. How wrong I was.
You like pork belly right? And you like fried chicken right (don’t lie, we all do)? Well, good Tonkatsu tastes like the combination of both; tender and juicy pork, perfectly deep fried with a light crispy crust to seal in all the juices.
So when I went on my food pilgrimage of 2014, I decided to seek out the best Tonkatsu in Japan, one where the family had been perfecting their craft over several generations. I discovered that Katsuzen is the only Tonkatsu restaurant in the world to have a Michelin star, but to my surprise, it was not that well regarded by locals or critics, ranking only 10th in Tokyo by the trusted Tabelog. What’s 1st? You guessed it, Narikura.
The Tonkatsu at Narikura surpassed my wildest expectations, yet I felt an incredible sense of sadness. Sadness that Tonkatsu is misrepresented to so many people around the world, sadness that, as a result, Tonkatsu is not more popular, and sadness that many may never have the privilege of having Tonkatsu as it should be.
But all is not lost. If you are ever in Tokyo, eat at Narikura, even if you hate Tonkatsu with a passion. Because I’m willing to bet that after one bite of Narikura Tonkatsu, you’ll only be able to say 3 words – “Ton-fkn-katsu”.
Chef at Narikura. Photo credit – @yewwooi
It was almost surreal, like something from an anime. To see this lone chef, whose skill had been honed over generations, brow furrowed from concentration on this single cut of pork. Contrast this to the rest of the world, where Japanese restaurants treat Tonkatsu as an after thought, one of the many items on the menu.
Each cut was individually sliced, breaded and fried to order. The way the chef treated the meat was as if he was preparing the finest cut of Matsusaka Wagyu. But no, it was “just” a cut of pork, a damn good one at that.
The world seems to be inspired by Sukiyabashi Jiro (Jiro Dreams of Sushi); his dedication, his skill, his relentless pursuit of perfection. But the thing I love about Japan is that this philosophy is ingrained in their culture, that the story of Jiro is just one of many stories across Japan. This is the story of Narikura.
This isn’t even my final form
The menu is all in Japanese, so here’s a bit of guidance on what and how to order.
- My favourite
- The fattiest out of the 3 specialty breeds
- Raised in Niigata
- Pigs were fattened with wheat which results in pork that is characterised by a rich oleic acid flavour component
- The leanest out of the 3 specialty breeds, but with the most flavour
- Raised in Okinawa
- Both delicious and rich in nutrients and is lower in cholesterol while containing 3.5 times more glutamic acid (a type of amino acid that gives it a rich flavour) and twice as much essential amino acid than regular pork.
- In between Kiramugi and Aguu in terms of fattiness and flavour
- Raised in Nagano
- Because the pigs are bred on the rich soil of Nikko, quality of the meat is maintained at a high level. This specialty pork is tender, has no smell, and has appropriate amount of fat in the lean.
3 cm Signature Cut (Regular Pork)
- The cheaper option at ¥2060 ($21 AUD), compared to the specialty breeds at ¥2890 ($29 AUD)
- Marginally less flavour and marginally less fatty. Nevertheless, still one of the best Tonkatsus I’ve ever had
- Despite an “inferior” cut, you still get the same care and skill from the chef, and the panko crust is just as good
TL;DR – This is some legit pork.
Note, specialty breeds are subject to availability. The three times I went, they never had all three specialty cuts available at the same time.
- My preferred cut
- Similar to a pork chop, but without a bone
Kuramagi Tonkatsu Loin, my favourite cut – ¥2890/$29 AUD (9.5/10)
Eating Kuramagi Pork was like eating Wagyu for the first time. It was so much juicier and tenderer that I could not believe it was actually pork. Like Wagyu has ruined me for all other beef, this may well have ruined me for all other pork.
And the perfect panko crust, crispy enough to provide crunch but soft enough to melt away, once in your mouth, to give way to the flavours of the pork. A touch of Tonkatsu sauce (basically a thicker version of Worcestershire sauce) adds a tang and an extra dimension to the Tonkatsu.
Contrary to popular belief, Tonkatsu is deep fried at a low temperature of 140°C for about 20 minutes. This maintains the juiciness of the pork and ensures a crisp crust.
Narikura’s inconspicuous entrance can be easily missed when there is no line
I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. I ended up coming back to Narikura three times in my short 8 day stay in Tokyo, and in a city where you can find the world’s best sushi, wagyu and ramen, that means a lot.
So fellow foodies, what’s the best pork dish you’ve ever had?