Tonkatsu is All About the Sauce

Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet) with Bull-Dog sauce (left) and Ikari Tonkatsu sauce (right)

Tonkatsu, a Japanese-style breaded deep-fried pork, is one of those dishes that require the proper sauce to accompany it in order to complete the dish. And there really is only one true companion for it, which would be none other than Tonkatsu sauce. An absolute must.

Bull-Dog brand has been our favorite for over a decade, which thankfully we were introduced to by a Nihongin friend of ours way back then. Before this, we longed for that unique flavor that we thought we only could get in Tokyo from this small Tonkatsu shop we frequented in the Sukiyabayashi mall, located under a subway track near the Imperial Hotel where we stayed.

Just recently I discovered another competitive brand called Ikari Tonkatsu sauce. Most likely you’ll only find Bull-Dog or Ikari in markets that specialize in Japanese/asian products, but you might get lucky and they’ll at least have the Bull-Dog brand, which actually has a made-for-export English label on it.

Kikkoman (the Shoyu company) also makes an acceptable Tonkatsu sauce that’s close to these in flavor, but a bit more “generic” if you will. If you can’t find the Bull-Dog or Ikari brand, do use the Kikkoman, which is widely available in the US.

Ikari Tonkatsu sauce (left) and Bull Dog Tonkatsu sauce (right)

This built-in “limiter” spout makes drizzling a small line of the sauce over the Tonkatsu easy, without dumping too much out at one time. Very nice.

Comparing Bull Dog with Ikari Tonkatsu sauce raw on a spoon, Bull Dog is just slightly more more intense and acidic, while the Ikari is just slightly sweeter and smoother. Which is kind of odd, as the Bull-Dog lists sugar as its first ingredient (after water), having you think that one would be sweeter.

Of course, eaten plain doesn’t do neither one justice. It’s only with the deep-fried breaded pork, do these sauces shine. And that they indeed do.

Eaten with the Tonkatsu pork, you’ll probably be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Speaking for myself, if you gave me a blind taste test, I honestly don’t think I could tell. Both have that authentic deep, spicy-sweet “twang” to them that compliment the pork cutlet so perfectly. Both are also equal in viscosity, with just enough body to stay stay put wherever you pour it without running off. Tonkatsu with these sauces are just such a unique, fantastic combination of flavor and texture that’s like nothing else out there.

Notice on the Bull Dog label that it says “Vegetable & Fruit Sauce”. We all know how fruit can compliment pork quite well. Think pineapple honey-glazed ham. Well, with these type of Tonkatsu sauces, it takes this concept of savory-tart-sweet to a whole new level. And they work equally as well on Chicken Katsu.

Which brings to mind how repulsive that Ketchup and Worcestershire stuff is that so many plate lunch stands serve here with their Chicken Katsu plates. I can understand cost concerns (ounce-for-ounce, Tonkatsu sauce is considerably more expensive ketchup), but still, that really is an unacceptable substitute for the real deal.

Also critical to a good Tonkatsu or Chicken Katsu dish is the finely sliced bed of cabbage. You NEED that. But that’s another story for another day.

Next time you order or make Tonkatsu (or Chicken Katsu), INSIST that it’s served with authentic Tonkatsu sauce.

Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet) with Bull Dog sauce (left) and Ikari Tonkatsu sauce (right)

Rice bowl

Tonkatsu Sauce Specifications

Ikari Tonkatsu Sauce
Exported by Kawa Corporation
Product of Japan
Ingredients: Apple, Tomato, Onion, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Spices, Corn Starch
10 oz. bottle
Place of purchase: Marukai Market (Ward, Honolulu, HI)
Price: $2.99

Bull-Dog Vegetable & Fruit Sauce
Tonkatsu Sauce
Manufactured by Bull-Dog Sauce Co., Ltd.
Product of Japan
Ingredients: Water, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Apple, Salt, Tomato,m Hydrolyzed Soy Protein (Contains Glutamates), Corn Starch, Prune, Carrot, Spices, Caramel, Coloring, Onion, Garlic & Ginger
10 oz. bottle
Place of purchase: Marukai Market (Ward, Honolulu, HI)
Price: $3.49


Tonkatsu is All About the Sauce — 22 Comments

  1. RonW, I’d say Tonkatsu and A1 share a similar depth in complexity and approach, yet have very different end results in how they pair with their intended dish.

    Funny you mention that though, as Kikkoman labels their Tonkatsu sauce as “steak sauce” on the condiment-sized packets.

    I tried Tonkatsu sauce with a grilled (beef) steak before, and it didn’t match. It’s better for things that are deep-fried. For steak, it’s gotta’ be A1. Nothin’ else, IMO.

    I’ve never tried A1 on Tonkatsu, but I’m guessing it won’t work as well as Tonkatsu sauce, as it doesn’t have enough “sweet” to compliment the pork.

  2. Pomai,

    Bulldog is probably one of the better sauces that one can find locally. A friend of mine brought back some tonkatsu sauce from Japan that has a much better flavor profile.

    I think I need to sample more “Japanese” sauces to compare. :)

  3. As usual a fine presentation!

    But you know what? I’ve never been taken with tonkatsu. Don’t know why, with so much of it around here. Especially with curry.

    But I’ll go ask my Okinawa workers what favorite brands they use at home themselves.

  4. Nate, I too was skeptical when I first seen that Katsu-curry dish offered at Coco Ichibanya Curry House. But after trying it (my girlfriend bought me one without my knowledge), I was quite impressed. I thought the tonkatsu would make the curry dish seem too heavy, but it actually matched well. Their tonkatsu in and of itself is executed quite well. Suprisingly for a chain like that. It actually retains its crispness, even though the curry is poured over it.

    Reid, next to you go to Marukai, pick up a bottle of the Ikari brand as shown. Good stuff, and slightly cheaper than Bull-Dog.

    What’s surprising is I had that Bull-Dog bottle in my fridge for almost a year now (it was lost way in the back), yet it still tastes like I just opened it. Must be the vinegar that preserves it so well.

  5. Growing up, we always had Ikari in the house because it was my mom’s favorite (one time when I went to the store and brought back home Bulldog, my mom said “What, they didn’t have Ikari?”). I didn’t recognize it in the photos, because the label is different. It used to have much cooler graphics.

  6. Hi Pomai,

    Long time no see/email/comment! I am still in love with your site and your passion for cooking!

    I have always been a fan of Bulldog, but now I will definitely try the Ikari brand !

    Thanks for keeping up with all your amazing entries, detailed instructions and great photos! Your popularity is growing and rightly so !! Fabulous blog !!


  7. My wife swears by Bulldog, but our current bottle is down to the bottom. Next time to Marukai I’ll pickup Ikari on your recommendation so I can see how it compares. Maybe I’ll even sneak it in and see if the missus notices the switch ;-)

  8. Upon closer inspection at Ward Marukai today, I noticed there were several other Japanese brands of Tonkatsu sauce on the shelf that I’ve never seen or tried before.

    Two were in squeeze bottles and another one was in a sqeeze “packet”. They were also considerably more expensive than Bull-Dog and Ikari, running about $4 for a smaller quantity.

    The squeeze packet brand had 3 different versions: “hot”, “mild” and “sweet”. I’d probably go for the sweet.

    I’ll give them all a try in a follow-up to this entry sometime later.

  9. You like me try sneak in some sauce from here? As long as no meat products in it, should be all right. But the ingredients are in Nihongo. But it will probably be all right as I come into Hickam at like midnight and the Customs guy is usually a bit sleepy and groggy!

  10. Nate, mahalo for the offer, but I still have like 3 other different brands to try that Marukai carries. Chances are, out of all these, at least a few would be the same ones available to you there in Okinawa.

    I still haven’t checked Shirokiya and Don Quijote, who may also have other brands available. By then, I’ll probably be quite burnt out on Tonkatsu! lol

    Kat, I didn’t see the Kagome brand in Marukai. I’ll check the other places for that one.

  11. Hey Pomai, I linked this post to my post because you have a great description on Tonkatsu sauce. Great post. But I have to say one thing…do you know that it’s bad manners to stick chopsticks into a bowl of rice (like in your last picture) in Japanese culture? You would cause people to stare in Japan or my grandma to yell at you. haha.

    Only place chopsticks on top of the bowl. Chopsticks poked into the rice is reserved only for funerals. Aloha!

  12. I forgot to say that Hollywood and ad execs make this mistake all the time when doing “Asian” ads – they usually cross the chopsticks sitting on the bowl (which is another no no).

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  14. Michelle, gomenasai! My sincerest apologies for this. All I can say is: I DID NOT KNOW! I’ll be sure not to place hashi stuck in rice again. Ack!

    Ironically, my grandmother (who is not Japanese, of course), used to make us rice balls on a regular basis, most likely not knowing that a ball-shaped musubi is traditionally reserved for funerals as well.

    Our Nihonjin friend Kachan also noted that pouring shoyu on rice is considered “low class”. But I can’t imagine not doing that here in Hawaii. Sheesh, we’ve probably been doing that ever since rice and shoyu hit Hawaii shores!

  15. Hey Pomai, I knew that you wouldn’t put the hashi in the rice knowingly, no worries! :) Actually, I did notice the shoyu on the rice but I thought that since I mentioned the hashi, I didn’t wanna rag on you too much – haha. Yes, Kachan is right…I was NEVER allowed to pour shoyu on rice and the “low class” thing was drilled into my head as a small keiki so I don’t have a taste for it like most local people but, so funny that you said “low class” because those were the EXACT words used to explain it to me too! Aloha, enjoy the summer! :)

  16. I grew up on Ikari Tonkatsu sauce, which could be found in abundance in the Los Angeles area. Problem is, I moved up to Sacramento and haven’t been able to find it anywhere, so I tried others, Bull Dog and Kikoman. I have to say, Bull Dog is just ok, and Kikoman, YUCK! I finally found a site online to buy the Ikari sauce from, but the shipping costs as much as a bottle! I’m down to my last bottle from my last trip to L.A. and i’m running out of options!

  17. I like Ikuri tonkatsu sauce too. I used it in Los Angeles moved to Japan and it was still favorite. I just moved to Honolulu and I was so happy when I found it here too. Go to and type in ‘Japanese grocery store’ location – Sacramento. Check here:
    You probably have already been to those stores.

    Have a friend send it to you. The post office has flat rate boxes. As long as you can fit it in the box then weight doesn’t matter up to 20lbs. You should be able to get a couple of bottles in a small box for less than $10. I just checked and I can fit about 15 500ml bottles into the box and it will cost $10.75 to ship. There are smaller boxes that are of course cheaper.

    I’m a big fan of this site. Even more so now that I’m living here so if all all else fails I feel your pain and I’ll send you a couple of bottles. 8)

    Good luck

  18. Amber, Bull Dog is “just OK”? Oh man. I’m hurt! lol I also don’t think Kikkoman’s version is “YUCK!”. Nowhere near as good as the Japanese export brands, but I think at least better than what I think is really “YUCK”, which is that horrible Ketchup and Worcestershire sauce stuff they serve way too often here at local plate lunch joints for their chicken katsu. Now that is YUCK!

    The Ikari brand is a mainstay brand at our local Marukai, being also a bit cheaper than Bulldog. I just bought a new 300ml bottle for $2.99, regular price. Sometimes it goes on sale cheaper than that!

    Milo, my guess is you’re a Marukai member as well. :-)

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