Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Black pork for lunch

Today in Tokyo, some friends and I decided to have a very good tonkatsu lunch. Usually, I like going to out-of-the-way places just because there's more novelty and local flavor; but today, everyone I was eating with had last-minute shopping to do in the Aoyama and Omotesando area before getting on airplanes back for Manila, so I chose to take them to Maisen Honten in Omotesando instead.


It's an old favorite and there's probably not a Tokyo guidebook that doesn't include this in its list of recommended tonkatsu places, so you might say it's a safe bet for a very good tonkatsu -- especially if you order the kurobuta tonkatsu (black pig). But maybe it's just too safe a bet because practically everyone knows about it already.

But it's a hop and a skip to Issey Miyake, Prada, Come des Garcons, Omotesando Hills and all the other shopping destinations of my lunch companions, plus it's very near my own house; so it was a no-brainer to go here for lunch.


Tonkatsu is just one of the many Japanese dishes I never have outside of Japan. For one thing, I hardly ever go to Japanese restaurants abroad because most of them are pretty disappointing, no matter how high end they are, when you compare them to the really good Japanese restaurants in Japan. And so far I've never had a good tonkatsu or a good kaiseki meal outside of Japan. Oh yes, and really good sushi.

So when I'm in Tokyo, I just love having tonkatsu. It's probably a combination of the pork, the bread crumbs, the way it's fried and the sauce that gives tonkatsu in Japan that world of difference vs tonkatsu elsewhere.


If you're going to have tonkatsu just a couple of times in Japan, I always recommend going for the gold -- meaning the kurobuta tonkatsu which is about three times the price of regular tonkatsu. But you can really tell the superiority of the black pork vs regular pork in Japan.

Kurobuta literally means black pork, and the best black pork still comes from the southern city of Kagoshima, which is so very much like Manila by the way, although some restaurants have been trotting out premium black pig from places like Okinawa and even Tokyo as well.

Kagoshima is still my favorite, and I never ever order the lean version. There's the fatty version called "roast" (I really don't have the English translation so this is a rough equivalent based on pronunciation) and the slightly healthier version called "hire," which is the way Japanese pronounce "fillet." Tonkatsu lovers know they should always order the fatty version as that's where the joy of life comes in.


Anyway, I open the menu today to translate for everyone else what's available, although it seemed that everyone was just going to order whatever I was having anyway. Maisen had three premium pork choices including a super special Kagoshima black pork, a regular Kagoshima black pork, and something called Tokyo X which they were only serving to 10 diners a day.

The prices were all different but I chose the middle, which was the regular Kagoshima black pork. Perhaps I should have gone for gold and just ordered the super special, but I was thinking that the top tier one was probably just a matter of branding.

The regular black pork was very good and extremely enjoyable. It was juicy inside, perfectly fried outside, and it came with a very special sauce made of grated apples that the restaurant only brings out when the customers order the black pork. It's thick and pretty sweet, so I like to mix it with a little spicy sauce as well for oomph.


After lunch we walked to the crossing of Aoyama together to say goodbye. They had shopping to do, and I'd already blown my budget at the 100 yen stores so I was planning to do some errands instead. I knew I'd just max out my credit card if I hung around with them for the afternoon in Aoyama, visiting shops like Marni, Cynthia Rowley, DKNY, Miu Miu and Prada.

Then just as we were saying goodbye, I heard my name called from a taxi driving by and turning left into the street that led to Comme des Garcons as well. I looked and it was a taxi full of Manila people, although they couldn't stop because the left turn light was green and the taxi was full speed. Besides, I don't think they knew how to say stop in Japanese, so they just waved from the speeding taxi and I waved back.

What are the odds of three sets of Filipinos who know each other from Manila meeting by chance on a street corner in one of the largest cities in the world? Either the world is indeed terribly small or I just know a lot of people.

Good night from Tokyo.

April-May issue



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