The Great Tonkatsu Sauce Shootout

Back in January of last year I did a write-up titled ‘Tonkatsu is All About the Sauce“, showcasing the Bull Dog and Ikari brand of store-bought sauces imported from Japan. Both of which do a great job replicating those “secret recipe” house-made sauces served at authentic Tonkatsu shops in Japan; one in particular I’m so fondly in memory of in the Sukiyabashi shopping mall located underneath a subway track in the Ginza.

That in mind,  I noticed while browsing the aisles of our local Marukai and Don Quijote – two key retailers here who carry Japanese imported  products – that there’s quite a few other brands of Tonkatsu sauces available today.

While I’m already very happy with the authenticity and flavor of both the Bull Dog and Ikari Tonkatsu sauce, I couldn’t resist trying out all the other brands just to make sure I’m not “missing out” on any of them.

Since there’s so many on the table here now, I decided in honor of the “Great Portuguese Sausage Shootout”, this time around we might as well have a “Great Tonkatsu Sauce Shootout”.  So as the chairman declares on each episode of the Iron Chef, “Let the battle begin!”


Tonkatsu sauces by brand/label name – Top row, left to right: Kikkoman (USA), Dobuzuke, Bairin Tokusen, Mitsuya.
Bottom row, left to right:  Ikari, Bull Dog, Kikkoman (Japan), Pole Star, Tokiha.

As you see here, we have 9 different brands. NINE DIFFERENT BRANDS! Actually nine different LABELS and five different brands if you consider their parent companies as one in the same, as two of these are both made by Kikkoman, with one from Kikkoman’s Wisconsin plant, labeled for US distribution, and the other  from Kikkoman’s plant in Tokyo, Japan. Also the Ikari and Dobuzuke labels are both from Japan’s Kawa Corporation.


Note, all of these were purchased either at Don Quijote (Kaheka) or Marukai (Ward), EXCEPT for the Bairin Tokusen sauce, which you can only get directly from Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin restaurant in Waikiki on Beach Walk avenue. Most were between $3 and $4 each, while the Bairin Tokusen was the most expensive at right under $7 per bottle.

I also threw in one “wild card”, which is my own concoction of Hawaii’s plate lunch industry Chicken Katsu side kick, the venerable and unholy, “bastardized” Worcestershire and Ketchup “Katsu Sauce”. Meh.

There’s probably more brands out there, and I didn’t check Shirokiya in Ala Moana or Nijiya Market in Puck’s Alley for what they’ve got, but I think nine-plus-one wild card here is enough to keep this interesting enough, as well as make me very FULL!

Before we get to the sauce, first let’s talk about Tonkatsu, which is breaded deep-fried pork. Its preparation is very simple and straightforward: dredge in flour, egg wash, then thoroughly coat in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and deep fry until “GBD” (golden brown ‘n delicious).  Some preseason the pork with salt and/or pepper before the breading station, some don’t. Some also pound their pork flat with the back of a chef’s knife or a meat mallet to help to tenderize it,  and some don’t . I do both.

As for the cuts of pork, I really don’t think it makes THAT much of a difference (as you’ll soon see), as the deep-frying process elevates the flavor and texture of even the cheapest cut, which would be pork butt (shoulder). Cuts sold in the store labeled as being intended for Tonkatsu are  usually boneless, fat-trimmed pork chops cut thinner than regular pork chops.

Ginza Bairin, a tonkatsu specialty shop in Waikiki features Kurobuta (black pig) pork loin and uses cottonseed oil for deep frying duty, which they claim elevates the quality, tenderness and flavor of their Tonkatsu, yet you pay a premium for those ingredients being used at a comparably hefty $30-plus a plate.

Well, since this is a shootout with the adjective “great” attached to it, we might as well compare not just the sauces, but also the cut of pork, as well as the cooking oil. It can’t get any more thorough than that.

Therefore here we’ll be a preparing  consumer-grade mainland chilled boneless pork chops, comparing them with the higher grade Blackline 33% Berkshire Pork, or as it’s called in Japanese, “Kurobuta” (black pig)…

As for deep frying oil, Ginza Bairin may use Cottonseed oil, but I think I’ve got one-up on them in this particular shootout, as this time I’m using 100% rendered pig’s lard

Yes, pig’s lard my friends. Those familiar with lard swear by it as superior in flavor and texture when frying and making pie crusts and other baked goods.There’s a very interesting article about lard Published in Food & Wine Online Magazine here.

The competing cooking oil used in this comparo’ will  be Wesson’s Best Blend of Vegetable and Canola…

Next let’s talk about serving and enjoying Tonkatsu. The most important accompaniment next to the sauce should be a bed of finely-sliced cabbage on the plate, providing an eye-pleasing color contrast to the main entree…

The finely sliced cabbage also adds a refreshing taste and texture contrast to the savory, golden-fried Tonkatsu pork, also helping to serve as a palate cleanser. As you grab each slice of Tonkatsu with your chopsticks, make sure to include a serving of sliced cabbage in the same bite. The best!

Finally, as most Japanese meals are completed, the entree (here being the Tonkatsu) should be served along with hot, steamed white rice, miso soup and pickled vegetables called Tsukemono.

To note, I left out the miso soup in my comparo’ here, as I have too much food already as it is.

Well let’s get cookin’!

First prepare the sliced cabbage. You can julienne it finely by hand if you have decent knife skills and a sharp blade, or to make it easier and more efficient, use one of these Japanese mandolin slicers made by Benriner….



There’s a dial (click on image above to see that) on the back that adjusts the thickness of the cut, to which I make it on the thinnest setting it can get. This yields sliced cabbage as fine as angel’s hair (however fine that may be, that just sounds like a good way to explain it). But use CAUTION! The blade on this mandolin is RAZOR SHARP, so be careful and pay attention when using this gadget. Use the included slicer holder if you’re new to this.

You finely julienne the cabbage, then soak it in an ice water bath for about 15 minutes…

What the ice water soak does is crisp the cabbage up, giving it this nice snap as you bite into it, while also removing some of that pungent cabbage smell. After about 15 minutes in the ice water bath, drain water thoroughly in a colander and keep cool and dry in fridge.

Now prepare the pork. If you bought cuts already trimmed and deboned for Tonkatsu use, go right ahead start breading it right out of tray. Otherwise debone and trim the fat off the cut as needed or desired. The fat “cap” on these caps looks fine to me, so I’m leaving it on. Hey, that’s where the flavor-kicker is!

I’ve seen some Tonkatsu demontrations recommend putting slices around the perimeter of the pork to prevent it from curling into a concave shape as it tightens up while cooking, but I haven’t found that to be much of an issue. Go ahead and do that if you’re really want a flat shape to your finished Tonkatsu.

Because the Berkshire blackline “Kurobuta” pork is already proclaimed as being tender right out of the package, I’m going to leave those their original thickness, not pounding it thin for tenderness. Keep it simple and let it speak for itself.

For the consumer-grade mainland chilled pork (in white tray), I pound them thinner using a meat mallet…

The plastic wrap is there as a barrier to keep meat juices from splattering all over as you pound it. Doing this tenderizes the pork by breaking  up the meat fibers, while the thinner cut helps it cook more thoroughly and evenly in the deep fryer.

Here you see how the size was displaced from being narrow and about 3/4″ in thickness, to being much wider and thinner to about 3/8″ in thickness…

After that, season lightly with salt and pepper…

Now set up the breading station…

Left to right in the bowls shown above is step 1) all-purpose flour; step 2) egg wash; and step 3) panko.

Wait now, what kind of panko (Japanese bread crumbs) should I use? See there’s fine panko and course panko. Here’s a bag of the fine stuff…

And here’s a bag of course panko…

Here you see the course panko on the left, and the fine panko on the right…

Notice the course panko has a longer “grain” to it. This gives the tonkatsu that highly desired course golden brown texture. I remember the tonkatsu shop in the ginza used course panko, and so does Ginza Bairin, a tonkatsu specialty shop in Waikiki,  and it’s also what I usually use. Although I have made tonkatsu with the fine stuff and find it still works great, but you just need to pack it on more.

OK, let’s start breading the pork, starting with a thorough dredge in all-purpose white flour…

Then into the egg wash (yolks and whites of 2 beaten eggs)…

Then into the (course) panko…

Notice I continue holding it only with my left hand (yes, I’m a lefty), as I keep my right hand dry and clean. This allows me to use the other “clean” hand to help pack on flour and panko so that it’s thoroughly and evenly coated. You don’t want any “empty” spots, as that will certainly show after it’s fried, and will also be lacking that desired golden-brown panko texture in those spots. Pack it on thoroughly on every surface.

I don’t like to start frying until all the pieces are finished with the batter station, so after each one is coated, I place them on a plate with panko on the bottom, just to make sure they’re all kept thoroughly and evenly coated…

Now I can wash my hands and pay 100% attention to the hot oil on the stove, which is another serious safety issue. ALWAYS use caution when working with hot oil. Not only can you burn y0urself really badly, you can also burn your house down if the oil spills over onto the element or flame and you’re not there watching it.

Here we have the cold lard added to my cast iron skillet…

As you probably know, cast iron is the superior vessel for this job as it’s great at retaining heat and maintaining the proper temperature. Here you see in no time at all, the cold congealed lard quickly melts into liquid “oil” form as it’s heated on the stove…

I continued adding lard  until it was about 1-1/4″ deep completely melted in the skillet.

Add the pork to the hot lard…

I currently only have one cast iron skillet, so I had to use a heavy-gauge stainless steel skillet for the Wesson ‘Best Blend’ oil…

The tonkatsu cooks pretty quick, taking about 5-7 minutes on each side. As expected, the lard was a little easier to work with, browning the katsu more gently and evenly, not having as much “scorch” areas like regular cooking oil tends to have. Surely the cast iron skillet also helped that part out.

After their evenly golden-brown-delicious or “GBD” on both sides in the fryer, remove and place on heavy-duty paper towel to absorb excess oil…

Cut into bite-size strips and plate as a “whole piece” on plate over a bed of that finely-julienned cabbage you prepared earlier, along with a wedge or two of lemon…

That brown plate above is the Tonkatsu cooked in lard, with the consumer-grade pork on the left and the Kurobuta on the right.

Here we have the Tonkatsu cooked in the Vegetable/Canola oil blend….

As you can tell by the shape and size, on this blue plate the kurobuta is on the left, and the consumer-grade pork is on the right.

Now that the tonkatsu is all cooked and ready for action, let’s have an introduction to each sauce that we’ll be comparing here today.

First we have my ‘wild card’, which as mentioned earlier, is the bastardized take on authentic Japanese fruit & vegetable-based Tonkatsu sauce. In my case, I prepared it by mixing ketchup, worcestershire sauce, mirin, shoyu and a little sugar. I didn’t write down the specific amounts, but just “eyeballed” it to taste. It came out pretty good, actually!


Contender #1 – ‘Wild Card’ home-made Tonkatsu Sauce

Wild Card home-made Tonkatsu Sauce ingredients: Ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Mirin, Shoyu and Sugar.

Contender #2 is Dobuzuke Tonkatsu Sauce, where this is the only one that came with PACKAGED bottle…

The bottle inside…


Contender #2 – Dobuzuke Tonkatsu Sauce

Dobuzuke Tonkatsu Sauce ingredients: Sugar, Distilled Vinegar, Soy Sauce, Onion, Tomato Paste, Apple, Sweet Rice Wine, Potato Starch, Hydrolized Soy Protein, Kelp, Citric Acid, Guar Gum.

Each brand offers a unique built-in pour spout which comes in handy for making a nice presentation when drizzled over the Tonkatsu. Here’s Dobuzuke’s spout…

Here’s a drop of the Dobuzuke Tonkatsu sauce on a white plastic spoon…

Contender #3 is Bairin Tokusen Tonkatsu Sauce, purchased directly from the Ginza Bairin Tonkatsu Restaurant in Waikiki…


Contender #3 – Bairin Tokusen Tonkatsu Sauce

Bairin Tokusen Tonkatsu Sauce ingredients: Sugar, Glucose, Tomato, Apple, Onion, Vinegar, Salt, Corn Starch, Amino Acid.

Bairin Tokusen’s pour spout…

Bairin Tokusen poured onto a spoon…

Contender #4 is Pole Star Tonkatsu Sauce…


Contender #4 – Pole Star Tonkatsu Sauce

Pole Star Tonkatsu Sauce ingredients: Apple, Date, Tomato, Sugar, Brewery Vinegar, Salt, Starch, Spices.

Pole Star’s pour spout…

Pole Star poured onto a spoon…

Contender #5 is Tokiha Tonkatsu Sauce…


Contender #5 – Tokiha Tonkatsu Sauce

Tokiha Vegetable Sauce (Tonkatsu Sauce) ingredients: Sugar, Vinegar, Vegetable & Fruit (Apple, Tomato, Onion, Carrot, Ginger, Celery, Garlic), Salt, Corn Starch, Ethanol, Spice, Caramel Coloring.

Tokiha’s pour spout…

Tokiha poured onto a spoon…

Contender #6 is Kikkoman Tonkatsu Sauce, Japanese edition…


Contender #6 – Kikkoman (Japan) Tonkatsu Sauce

Kikkoman Japan Tonkatsu Sauce ingredients: Vinegar, Sugar, Tomatoes, Salt, Corn Starch, Apples, MSG, Spices, Onions, Caramel, Tamarind Gum, Carrots, Garlic, Guar Gum, Licorice.

Kikkoman Japan spout…

Kikkoman Japan poured on a spoon…

Contender #7 is Ikari Tonkatsu Sauce…


Contender #7 – Ikari Tonkatsu Sauce

Ikari Tonkatsu Sauce ingredients: Apple, Tomato, Onion, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Spices, Cornstarch.

Ikari’s pour spout…

Ikari poured onto a spoon…

Contender #8 is Bull Dog Tonkatsu Sauce…


Contender #8 – Bull Dog Fruit & Vegetable Sauce (Tonkatsu Sauce)

Bull Dog Vegetable & Fruit Sauce (Tonkatsu Sauce) ingredients: Water, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar (Made from Alcohol), Apple Puree, Salt, Tomato Paste, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (Contains Soy), Modified Cornstarch, Carrots, Spices, Prune Paste, Yeast Extract, Onions, Apricot Puree.

Bull Dog has unique pour spout, with two built-in sizes capped upon each other. The smaller pour is on top…

You flip that  up and there’s a larger pour underneath…

Bull Dog poured onto a spoon…

Contender #9 is Mitsuya Tonkatsu Sauce…


Contender #9 – Mitsuya Tonkatsu Sauce

Mitsuya Tonkatsu Sauce ingredients: Liquid Sugar, Apple Boil, Corn Syrup, Vinaigre Brasse, Condensed Tomato, Salt, Fermented Seasoning, Corn Starch, Pepper, Onion Puree, Condensed Apple Juice, Apple Puree, Garlic Exract, Onion Extract, Protein Hydrolysate (Soy Bean), Caramel, Xanthan G, MSG, Water.

Mitsuya’s pour spout…

Mitsuya poured onto a spoon…

Last but not least, Contender #10 is Kikkoman USA edition…


Contender #10 – Kikkoman (USA) Tonkatsu Sauce

Kikkoman USA ingredients: Sugar, Applesauce, Water, Vinegar, Soy Sauce, Salt, Modified Food Starch, Onion Puree, Tomatoes, Carrot Puree, Spices, Caramel, Garlic Powder, Maltodextrin, Sodium Benzoate.

Kikkoman USA’s pour “spout”…

Kikkoman USA poured onto a spoon…

Now how am I going to organized and ID each sauce so they don’t get mixed up? Easy. As a “back-up”, I wrote the name of each sauce on a piece of tape and placed it under each sauce dish…

This way, in case I moved any dishes around, I can always look underneath to know which sauce is which.

I then poured the sauces in each dish accordingly and lined them up in front of the staging area, or shall we call it “Kitchen Arena”….

Here you see the Tonkatsu sauce dishes are set-up neatly in consecutive order, with the contenders arranged by their designated number from left to right (small to larger dish).

I then had my notepad ready with the name and number of each Tonkatsu sauce contender, and each criteria I would be judging them by.

Now what exactly are we trying to distinguish here? Well, as I stated before and I firmly believe, Tonkatsu really is all about the sauce, and the Japanese have absolutely NAILED this dish because of it. Whoever invented the foundation of  the fruit & vegetable-based Tonkatsu Sauce is an absolute Genius. It’s an amazingly complex combination of sweet-meets-savory-meets-robust-meets-spicy-meets-everything else. Or as Kikkoman describes it in their ad campaign, “Umami”, which in Japanese roughly translates to “tasty” (hey, good word!) in reference to the five basic components that make up taste, including sweet, salty, tangy, spicy, bitter and savory. Well, something to that effect. I’m not an expert on this science, but you get the idea.

While I’m no food scientist, being a food blogger for almost three years now, I do have my share of tasting things and documenting it under my belt. So I’ll attempt to be at least semi-scientific in this here ‘Great Tonkatsu Sauce Shootout’. Or at least try to make sense of what could be just minor deviations between the various sauces on the bench.

If you read and compare the ingredients listed among all these sauces intended for the same purpose of making Tonkatsu taste great, there’s a few common denominators. Number one is that they’re all considered a “fruit and vegetable sauce”, which makes sense being that they’re accompanying pork. Most of them have apple puree, tomato, salt, a sweetener, vinegar and some secret spices. Some have soy sauce, some have onion, some don’t. Bull dog has apricot puree. Could that be their secret ingredient? Most of them have corn starch as a thickener, which makes sense.

So that explains why we’re talking about a whole range of flavor components your tongue must deal with in eating Tonkatsu with the accompanying sauce. Not to mention the textures from the breaded panko and shredded cabbage.

Because this shootout is all about the sauce (as it usually is with food), we must set up some foundational criteria to judge by, which the ground has already been laid. That would be, salty, sour (acidic), sweet and bitter, along with spicy (hot), savory and astringent (dryness).

But because this is a special type of sauce (famous last words), let’s modify that criteria. For this shootout, the criteria will be broken down by sweet, sour (acidic), spicy ‘n zesty and savory ‘n robust.  Along with for texture, thickness (viscosity). Finally overall in how it compliments the Tonkatsu, which we’ll call “Umami”.

The points will be scored in those categories based on the traditional Tasty Island 5-point scale, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.

Hai, itadakimasu!

Before moving along through each sauce, first let’s see how the lard-fried Tonkatsu did versus the Vegetable/Canola Oil fried Tonkatsu…

That’s the lard version on the brown plate. Now let’s try the vegetable/canola oil version…


SmartLEAN
I found the lard version had a slightly better texture to the panko, but only slightly. It did have a bit more flavor throughout, but not by as much as I expected, especially considering we’re deep-frying pork in its own fat, which you think would be a virtual home run hit out the park, but the lard version wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be. For that I give the lard the lard a slight tip in its direction, but not by enough to warrant recommending you go render some yourself because it’s superior here, which it wasn’t. The vegetable/canola “Best Blend” did a mighty fine job, so Kudos to Wesson (shameless plug that I’m not getting paid for… yet).

Now how about the comparison between the Kurobuta and consumer-grade pork? Even here I didn’t find the Kurobuta “blew” the consumer-grade pork out of the water. It was a little more tender,  but not by much. Perhaps this 33% Berkshire Pork isn’t as great as one that’s 100%, wherever you can find that. I got this one from Don Quijote, yet Marukai carries the same 33% Berkshire.

As it stood between the two here in the application of making Tonkatsu, I’m just fine with the $3.29/lb. consumer grade pork versus the $7.29/lb. Berkshire Pork. The kurobuta sounds exotic, but that’s about it. In fact, I had that same thought when trying the Kurobuta from Ginza Bairin. It sounded good on paper with the price that goes along with it, but I wasn’t knocked off my chair in amazement by it, considering the substantial price difference.

OK, let’s get going with with our Tonkatsu sauce shootout!…

I was concerned my palate would go into “everything tastes the same” mode, and I pondered what would be the best palate cleanser between tasting each sauce, considering everything from hot tea, to milk to beer to sake, but opted instead to stick with a good ‘ole  glass of ice water.

Notice the “Kitchen Arena” began getting more and more sloppy as my hand-eye coordination started to get thrown off due to my brain receptors going haywire from the barrage of flavors signals repeatedly sent to it sauce after sauce after sauce. lol

Sheesh, this is harder than I thought! I began getting full by the time I reached just the 5th sauce. Now it’s ‘Man versus Food’. Just breath… focus… breath… focus…. take another bite. You’ll be OK. lol

By the time I reached the tenth sauce, I was on the floor hunched in a ball, trying to regain mental and physical composure after having consumed nearly a pound of Tonkatsu and I’m estimating at least 1/3 to 1/2 cup total of tonkatsu sauce. Ack!!!!  I certainly don’t wanna’ see my blood pressure reading right after this!

All for the sake of another intensive Tasty Island shootout. Ah, what the heck, I took one “for the team”. lol

Without further ado, Here’s the results! The scores are based on a scale of 1-5 from least to most for the flavor profiles and thickness criteria, with 1-5 being least to best for “Umami”, which is is defined here as how “Overall this sauce compliments and enhances the savory Tonkatsu”.

Wild Card: 1
• Sweet
• Sour
• Spicy ‘n Zesty
• Savory ‘n Robust
• Thickness (viscosity)
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard R-3  K-1
Oil  R-2  K-1
Dobuzuke 2
• Sweet – 2
• Sour – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard R-3 K-1
Oil R-3 K-3
Bairin 3
• Sweet – 4
• Sour – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 4
• Savory ‘n Robust – 3
• Thickness (viscosity) – 1
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard R-5 K-3
Oil K-4 R-4
Pole Star 4
• Sweet – 4
• Sour – 3
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 4
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 2
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard R-2 K-1
Oil R-2 K-3
Tokiha 5
• Sweet – 3
• Sour – 1
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 4
• Savory ‘n Robust – 2
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard R-1 K-1
Oil R-1 K-1
Kikkoman Japan 6
• Sweet – 1
• Sour – 1
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 4
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard R-4  K-2
Oil  R-2 K-1
Ikari 7
• Sweet – 3
• Sour – 3
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard R-4 K-4
Oil R-3 K-2
Bulldog 8
• Sweet – 3
• Sour – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard r-5 k-4
Oil k-4 k-4
Mitsuya 9
• Sweet – 3
• Sour – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 5
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard -R-1 K-1
Oil R-2 K-1
Kikkoman USA 10
• Sweet – 3
• Sour – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 3
• Thickness (viscosity) – 4
• Overall compliments the Tonkatsu:
Lard K-2 K-2
Oil K-2 K-1

Contender #1 – ‘Wild Card’ homemade Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 2
• Acidic – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 2
• Savory ‘n Robust – 3
• Thickness (viscosity) – 5
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 3
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 2
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 3
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 2

Contender #2 – Dobuzuke Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 2
• Acidic – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 4
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 2
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 4
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 1

Contender #3 – Bairin Tokusen Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 4
• Acidic – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 4
• Savory ‘n Robust – 3
• Thickness (viscosity) – 1
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 5
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 4
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 5
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 5

Contender #4 – Pole Star Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 4
• Acidic – 3
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 4
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 2
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 3
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 2
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 3
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 4

Contender #5 – Tokiha Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 3
• Acidic – 1
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 4
• Savory ‘n Robust – 2
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 2
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 2
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 2
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 2

Contender #6 – Kikkoman (Japan) Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 1
• Acidic – 1
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 4
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 4
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 3
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 3
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 2

Contender #7 – Ikari Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 3
• Acidic – 3
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 5
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 5
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 4
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 3

Contender #8 – Bull Dog Fruit & Vegetable Sauce (Tonkatsu Sauce)
• Sweet – 3
• Acidic – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 5
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 4
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 5
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 4

Contender #9 – Mitsuya Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 3
• Acidic – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 5
• Savory ‘n Robust – 4
• Thickness (viscosity) – 3
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 1
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 2
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 2
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 1

Contender #10 – Kikkoman (USA) Tonkatsu Sauce
• Sweet – 3
• Acidic – 2
• Spicy ‘n Zesty – 3
• Savory ‘n Robust – 3
• Thickness (viscosity) – 4
• “Umami” (Overall compliments the Tonkatsu) :
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in Lard – 3
Kurobuta Fried in Lard – 2
Consumer Grade Pork Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 2
Kurobuta Fried in vegetable/canola oil blend – 2

Now what do we make of these numbers?

First of all let’s look at the sweet, where most of them were right in the middle range, with the Bairin Tokusen and Pole Star the only ones that were noticeably more sweet than they were acidic. While for the acidic, they all remained slightly lower, yet well within range of its sweet counterpart, providing that all-important balance between those two key senses of taste.

Spicy ‘n Zesty was probably the one that really defined its overall impression, as well you know, how food is seasoned often can make or break a dish. Ingredients such as garlic, onions and ginger surely played role in how high or low they scored here. With that, notice Mitsuya scored the highest, yet not that it being “most Spicy ‘n Zesty” is necessarily a good thing, as it didn’t do so well in the overall “Umami” factor. Interestingly, the Bairin Tokusen sauce also was noted as being quite Spicy ‘n Zesty, yet did do very well overall in its “Umami” factor. Why is that? Probably because it was also very sweet which helped counter that.

Not surprisingly most of them were pretty high up on scores for Savory ‘n Robust, as that pretty much defines what Tonkatsu Sauce is all about. If it didn’t have that character, it just wouldn’t taste like Tonkatsu sauce, now would it?

For viscosity, they all were pretty much within range of each other, being right about what the French describe as “nape”, where it’s able to thinly coat the back of a spoon. The Ginza Bairin was on one end of the extreme as being the thinnest, while not surprisingly, my Heinz Ketchup-based (another shameless plug) homemade Tonkatsu sauce was on the other end as the thickest of the bunch. What that thinness afforded to the Bairin sauce was it allowed it penetrate deeper into the fibers of the pork, so when you bit into it, the sauce’s flavors really got in and did its job more effectively.
Finally the overall “Umami” factor, where I scored each sauce based on my overall impression of how it complimented the delicate, golden-brown slices of Tonkatsu. I even broke it down to the type of pork and oil it was prepared with in the pairing.

Adding up all the scores, first place goes to Bairin Tokusen, while trailing in a close second is Bull Dog. Backing up this claim, my girlfriend, who didn’t take part formally in the judging, also concurred that these two were the best of the bunch. Coming in a close third is the Ikari brand, which I personally find just as satisfying as the top two here. I was really surprised how good the Bairin Tokusen sauce was considering how sweet and thin it is in on its own, but somehow when it coats the tonkatsu, it’s just EXCELLENT. Even more so than I thought of it when I had it in their restaurant in Waikiki. It is considerably higher in price at about $7 for that 12 oz. bottle, when you can get the 10 oz. Bull Dog on sale at Marukai for half that, and most others here under $4 each.

The rest of the “Umami” scores lands Kikkoman Japan in 4th place, Dobuzuke in 5th, Pole Star in 6th, ‘Wild Card’ home-made sauce in 7th (how’s that?!), Kikkoman USA in 8th, Tokiha in 9th, and trailing the pack in 10 place is the Mitsuya brand.

The Mitsuya scored the lowest here for one reason: it tasted FERMENTED. I bought it brand new and used it within 2 weeks of purchase, but I dunno. It just had this funny “old” taste to it, like it had been sitting in a warehouse for a very long time. Not so bad that it was inedible, but it was there.

Surprisingly my ‘Wild Card’ homemade Tonkatsu sauce did better than I expected, beating out 2 Japanese sauces in “Umami-ness”. I was rather impressed with it! Go figure. I think you can come pretty close to these imported Japanese Tonkatsu sauces with some trial and error IF you know what you’re trying to shoot for. Next time I’d like try adding apple sauce into the ketchup and worcestershire sauce mixture, which looks to be a common main ingredient in the Japanese Tonkatsu sauces.

If  your neighborhood grocery store’s asian section doesn’t carry any of these specialty import brands of Japanese Tonkatsu sauce, you should still be able to find the Kikkoman USA brand, which has national distributorship. While it didn’t do quite as well in comparison to the best of the bunch here, it still did fare better than even some of the Japanese brands. I kinda’ like it. From what I hear, Bull Dog is becoming more and more common around the states as well, which is great as that’s one of the best you can buy! Otherwise you’ll have to resort to the homemade version like I made.

While the top three finishers – the Bairin Tokusen, Bull Dog and Ikari – all acheived  the highest sense of “Umami”, all of the contenders here would probably in and of themselves be pleasing to you if enjoyed it alone and not compared with other sauces side-by-side like this. Even the lowest scorer, the Mitsuya – regardless of its subtle “old” taste – was still a respectable Tonkatsu sauce. While the Bairin scored the highest overall, probably second place finisher Bull Dog will be the one I keep in my pantry on a regular basis just because it’s easier to find and well, I’m just more used to its overall body and flavor.

Not that that matters at this point, as now I have to figure out what to do with all these open bottles of Tonkatsu sauce. From this day on, I’ll probably have to eat Tonkatsu at least once a week for an entire year just to finish all of it. lol

Oi… onaka ipai desu.

P.S. There’s just two restaurants in Honolulu that I’m aware of who specializes specifically in Tonkatsu. That would be Kaffee Imperial Tonkatsu House on Kapiolani Boulevard (across the Honolulu Advertiser) and Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin in Waikiki on Beach Walk. If you know of any other places around town that serve an excellent Tonkatsu and sauce, let us know!


Comments

The Great Tonkatsu Sauce Shootout — 63 Comments

  1. Oh. My. Gawd. This is the the most comprehensive tonkatsu article I’ve ever read. *Applause*

    When I still ate meat, pork was my #1 choice and tonkatsu reigned supreme!

    Don’t you just hate it when diners “water down” their sauce with ketchup? Or just have “no shame” and use plain ketchup as their “sauce”.

  2. My goodness. Your review had so many pictures of tonkatsu sauce, I’m seeing dark spots. o_O

    I’m also hungry for tonkatsu, although not fried in pig lard. Just the word “lard” makes my heart pause.

    Go lefties!

  3. Wow! I’m seriously impressed by your katsu sauce showdown. :)

    Btw, have you ever tried the katsu at Rock’n Sushi on Ward? The katsu itself is okay but the sauce is definitely different. I guess it’s not exactly katsu sauce in a sense but it’s like homemade sauce with the addition of something else that I think is ground sesame seeds but will have to ask the next time I go.

  4. you left out a variety of panko that, in my opinion, adds the most Japanese aroma (and resulting umami, if you will) for any tonkatsu dish. that’s honey panko.

    in shirakiku brand, it’s generally in pink wrapping (vs. the standard yellow), and using the honey panko renders a flavour that is unbeatable.

  5. Wow! Very comprehensive! I am quite impressed and really enjoyed reading about your taste test! The Bull Dog never steers me wrong, but I will keep an eye out for the Bairin Tokusen the next time I go to the Japanese marketplace.

    Even though I just had lunch, now I’m really hungry for tonkatsu!

  6. Awesome post. I’ll try picking up the Bull Dog sauce next time (dangit, I was just at Don Q yesterday).

    On a side note, I’m totally jealous of the seasoning on your cast iron skillet. Mine has a long way to go before it’ll look that good.

  7. When I make tonkatsu I always make sure there extra for katsu musubi to take to work. Package sauce in small container and all set.

  8. Wow. Just… wow. Pomai… nobody on the planet does a shootout like that. Comprehensive info, cooking tech, great pics. Well done, my friend. And now, I require tonkatsu. Immediately. ;)

  9. Just when I thought you couldn’t top your “chip” taste test, you totally outdid yourself in this tonkatsu challenge. This was sooo incredibly detailed from start to finish. I don’t think you miss anything. I didn’t even know so many brands of tonkatsu sauce existed! Now I gotta go get some Bull Dog tonkatsu sauce. Steak is good but pork fat rules!

  10. To me “tonkatsu is about the pork and how it’s cooked vs. the sauce.” To cook anything in lard is scary to me. I give you props for always trying things that are new. Bairin Tokusen was good but too expensive when I can make something comparable at home. I have a secret recipe for a similar sauce of a bigger chain in Japan but it’s easier to just use Ikari that’s just as consistent for me. “Eh BullDog is #2 vs. what?” We all have our own tastes but to me BullDog sucks.

  11. I love tonkatsu and I’m fairly sure I’ve found the absolute Holy Grail of tonkatsu posts right here!! I applaud your hearty efforts to cook, sample, and grade all these things in the name of food/delicious science!

  12. wasabi prime, ‘Delicious Science’ would be a great name for a food blog. Perhaps Alton Brown already has that one reserved. ;-)

    Diner A, you got it!

    Milo, care to share that “secret recipe”? If so, shoot me an eMail! But wow, to say Bull Dog “sucks” means you must have quite particular tastes. All I know is Bull Dog and Ikari are pretty darned close to how it tasted from that Tonkatsu Shop in Tokyo we frequented.

    Deanna, as a side note, someone asked me once how Tonkatsu Sauce differed from steak sauce (oh, like A1), and I found that difficult to answer. All I know is they’re not really interchangeable when it comes to the actual pairing of the two types of meats. I mean, they’ll work with the “other meat”, but neither are as complimentary to it as the what they were designed for. Interestingly, Kikkoman USA packages their condiment-sized Tonkatsu Sauce (same stuff as shown in the bottle here in packet form) and label it as “Steak Sauce”. Go figure.

    Marcus, hope your “requirement” got fulfilled!

    Kimo, personally I’m not one for Katsu leftovers. As with anything deep-fried, it’s just gotta’ be eaten fresh outta’ the fryer. That’s why I always try to make only what I know we’ll consume for the meal at hand. No extra.

    Spotty, I bought my 12″ cast iron skillet pre-seasoned from the factory. It’s the Lodge brand. I don’t see why yours should take so long even if it’s not. A good rub-down with oil and some heat and it should be good-to-go. I gotta’ say, that cast iron skillet will probably outlive EVERY other piece of cookware and major appliance in the kitchen. The whole house could burn down and that cast iron skillet would still be left standing. TOUGH STUFF! It’s good to see the Lodge brand is still manufacturing excellent quality cast iron “old school” cookware, and they’re really reasonably priced!

    Debby, to the best of my knowledge, the Bairin Tokusen brand can only be purchased directly from Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin restaurant, which there’s one in Waikiki. Other than Milo, I knew there’d be lots of Bull Dog fans here. 8)

    Raph, yeah, it was “epic” alright. So epic it almost hurt! lol

    @dkmashino, if you look closely at the package of Hituji brand course panko I have pictured, it says “with butter and honey”.

    Kasey, no I haven’t been to Rock ‘n Sushi on Ward yet. They’re still there though! Been long time now. Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin serves their tonkatsu with the sauce along with sesame seeds separate on the side served in a mortar & pestle. What you’re supposed to do is grind up the sesame seeds a little to bring out the oils and flavors. Then you dip your tonkatsu in the sauce, then in the sesame seeds. It’s quite tasty I gotta’ say. I didn’t do it for every bite, but as an option to the Tonkatsu dining experience, it’s quite nice!

    Marvo, you’d be surprised how “light and delicate” foods taste when sauteed or deep-fried in lard. Not greasy or heavy at all. At least the one I use. Perhaps the hydrogenated stuff might leave a different impression.

    Kat, I actually called Kaffee Imperial Tonkatsu House the other day just to make sure they were still there. They must have a loyal following to survive this long being so hidden where they’re at. I really got to get there soon!

    hapabento, I think if a customer went into an Tonkatsu specialty shop and asked the server for ketchup, and the chef seen them put it on their tonkatsu, he/she would probably get kicked out. 8O

  13. Re: the cast iron seasoning and why mine is taking so long, that’s easy. I can be kind of forgetful about those things. I got my Lodge au naturel, and always forget to stick it in the oven. I should have done it with the turkey a couple weeks ago, but alas…I’ll remember one of these days.

  14. What an awesome review of tonkatsu sauces !!! I have always been a fan of the Bulldog one or I make my own too, but now I am interested in trying some of the others! You are a fabulous food critic …I so enjoy your blog!!

  15. seriously, that must have taken hours to do. nice work. I do love tonkatsu sauce! I put it on everything. It’s weird. I put it on eggs. steak. chicken. yeah, i’m a little weird about it.

    thanks for a great post!

  16. Pomai, at home I will use tonkatsu sauce on ready made frozen chicken strips from supermarket or patty with rice. It mock katsu and also in sandwich for mock katsu sandwich too.

  17. i’ved enjoyed reading your article about tonkatsu sauce,i’m just searching for tonkatsu sauce recipe on google,and i’m happy that i’ve found yours….ありがとうございます!

  18. Pomai, had a sale in Chinatown on ground pork so got a lot to make many recipes. Potstickers, ground pork tonkatsu, siu mais and and spring rolls. I will freeze some for later . You might call my ground pork tonkatsu a poor man tonkatsu but taste still pretty good with homemade sauce. I learn from my Japanese friends who moms are great cooks.

  19. dracky, hopefully the ingredients listings will help you develop the flavor profile you’re looking for.

    Aaron, that’s a great idea! I never thought of making Tonkatsu with ground pork. I’m definitely gonna’ give that a try!  I’ll try making chicken katsu with ground chicken too.

  20. I bow to you o tonkatsu King! I am trying your Lard idea tonight, works for Carnitas , should be crazy good for tonkatsu! Thanks so much! Have a Puka Dog on me! Email Me the bill! I will pay you Tuesday.

  21. This is the definitive tonkatsu blog post in the entire history of tonkatsu blog posts! Makes my tonkatsu blog post look like a booger! Very fine job here, friend…well done!!!

  22. Very interesting and I would NEVER go to all that trouble. However, what some do not understand is that what does not taste to one person, will taste very good to another. People taste things differently. When our sons were young we took part in “twin testing” at the Medical College of Virginia. As part of the test, we were sat down at a table with ten bottles of liquid lined up in a row down the table. Each bottle had an increasing amount of some sort of chemical with the least amount in the first, more in the second, even more in the third and so on down the row. We were asked to squirt the liquid on our tongue and let the technician know when we could taste the chemical in the liquid. Some people could taste it in the first and some went all the way to the last before being able to taste it. That was when I discovered that Coke doesn’t necessarily taste better than Pepsi, or Pepsi than Coke. People’s tastes are different. Two people can eat the exact same dish and one will think it tastes wonderful while the other will think it is absolutely awful. While I can applaud your hard work it does not really mean much to one whose tastes are different.

  23. i give you all the thumbs for your dedication to write all this stuff!!
    im in the middle of trying to open a tonkatsu shop, so i googled around and your article is just WOW!

    thanks for writing!

  24. Ade Indra, hopefully you’ve visited authentic tonkatsu shops in Japan, so you know what the benchmark is. Luckily, we have one right here in Waikiki called Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin, which tastes very authentic, because it is! The only thing they don’t have is the Miso Soup with the small Shijimi black Japanese clams. Their Tonjiru is awesome though.

  25. hell just reading this makes me want to open a tonkatsu shop… I wonder if it would take at the weekly farmer’s market LOL. But great article.

    I just made my first batch — with some Bulldog…. mmmmm.

    appetizer was deep fried pickles cooked in the same fashion.

  26. Carole, are you an idiot. Of course this is based on one individuals own tastes. I’m glad as a lab rat you learned something useful. This article broke down the individual tastes of each sauce by acidity sweetness and so forth.

    Thanks to Pomai a lot people will have the opportunity to read this article, try a few different sauces and make their own decision as to what they feel suits them best.

  27. Carole, I think age has a lot to do with taste as well, as I myself, now in my 40’s, am a lot more sensitive to SALT then I remember being in my younger years. So what, say Tonkatsu sauce brand, might taste bland to an 18 year old, may taste too bold to someone like me, and so forth. I see your point, though.

    bdimag, hmmm, Tonkatsu Pickles, eh? VERY interesting! Some folks have RAVED about a Tempura fried bacon, so perhaps we should take that another step and do a Tonkatsu fried bacon! As for “the health conscious” that you’re implying who shop at the Farmers Market, you’ll be amazed at the LONG LINE formed every weekend for the Fried Green Tomatoes at KCC Farmers Market. The Japanese tourists seem to be especially interested in it.

    Hamo, yeah, all I was trying to do is point out the differences between the various sauces based on the criteria given, which of course will come across differently to each person’s palate. Ultimately, a blind taste test with a number of taste testers would be ideal for any comparison review between a number of products (Pepsi vs. Coke), but I’m not inclined to that far, nor do I have the time. This shootout alone took a good 2 hours just to execute the cooking and tasting part, plus at least another 2 hours to write it up here. Whew!

  28. I found a recipe for Japanese hamburger which called for Bulldog Tonkatsu sauce. I decided to see what that was because I like everything diferent. Your blog was an excellent tutorial on the subject, for which I must say “thank you” for going to all that trouble. I found at an oriental shop just around the corner from me in Dunedin, FL that Bulldog has 2 flavors, one is priced at $7.99 and the other a dollar more. That sounded kinda high for me so I didn’t buy any – yet. I was hoping to find a recipe so I could make it at home. I’m an old retiree who’s grtting into Thai & Japanese cooking. I love them both.

  29. Enjoyed reading about your taste test. Lots of hard work but sounds like it was fun as well. :O) The number 3 Ikari brand is my favorite in part because it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup or sugar as the first ingredient. Inspired by your efforts, I plan on trying to make my own tonkatsu sauce in the near future.
    Thanks again!

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  32. omg! i love the review you did for the tonkatsu sauce!

    this was just amazing! thank you for sharing and i would love to read more of your food blog

  33. A tip for you to get the tonkatsu even more crispy that I learned from another website, you should double fry it. So cut your normal frying time in half to do a double frying process. Fry for the first time (both sides) in half the usual time. And don’t lay them flat on the plate. you should keep them up vertically on its side. Then you put it again for a second time of frying (both sides) for half the usual time, on slightly less heat to avoid burning the panko.

    Then after the second time of frying is finished, let them rest vertically to air dry.

    I find doing it this way achieves a much more crispy result than a single frying process and resting them flat on the paper towel on a plate.

  34. Was looking around for articles on tonkatsu sauce, and stumbled upon your blog. As a Japanese person living in Tokyo, I was honestly astounded by your passion in finishing this sauce tasting experiment! I would probably have given up by the 3rd sauce. As you probably know, I think the bulldog brand is the most popular and most used tonkatsu sauce in Japan. ( I never knew that kikkoman had a tonkatsu sauce) Actually, bulldog has released a extra special tonkatsu sauce bottle last year that is true bliss. I wish I could send it to you.
    I am definitely coming back to see more of your posts. Keep up the good work!

  35. Well done! A very thorough experiment and an interesting read. I’m interested in making my own tonkatsu sauce so if you ever perfect the homemade version I’ll be using your recipe.

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  37. I mean, cant you just tell us which sauce is good and which you hated, in those words/ I get bored trying to figgure it out from your numbers and whatever

  38. And I still don’t know how for make my own katsu sauce.. *sigh*. Oh well. Most in depth katsu review ever probably but so mahalo for that.

  39. Tonkatsu sauce doesn’t just go with tonkatsu. I’ve tried it with almost everything, and it’s great every time! The brand I use is Kagome btw ;)

  40. Hey,

    Great article! Thanks for going to the trouble. I’m here in Japan (Kyoto) and was just stopping by a supermarket on my way home, looking for something for lunch. I got a pre-made tonkatsu, but it only had a lemon – no sauce. So, I checked out the brands. I think there were four or five, Bulldog being one. In the end, I cheaped out (because I prefer eating tonkatsu at a good restaurant to my shabby cooking!) and made a ketchup/worcestershire monster. I ate it while reading this article, wishing I would have gotten the Bulldog! Next time!

    • What? You’re in Kyoto, Japan, yet entirely reducing your options for what is probably GREAT TONKATSU SAUCE all around you, to “mere mortal and inferior” ketchup and worcestershire? “Monster” and TRAGIC, indeed!

      Can’t go wrong with either the Ikari or Bull Dog brand for that old school mom ‘n pop Tonkatsu-Ya taste.

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  43. Pomai, another amazing taste-off. We had the good fortune of eating at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin in 2010 and were wowed by their tonkatsu sauce. I can’t remember ever having a tonkatsu sauce that had that kind of impact on me. Another dipping sauce we had was the wafu oroshi (that came with the wafu oroshi pork loin katsu), a thinner sauce of shoyu, daikon oroshi, dashi and ponzu that was to-die-for. It’s too bad that Ginza Bairin is so expensive, but there’s no denying the quality of their food.

  44. zoomeboshi,

    Glad to hear it was as good for you, as it was for me.

    Wafu is a very difficult dish to pull off. You have to grate the onions very finely to make the sauce. Since you’ll be here in Honolulu, I highly recommend HIFUMI for their Wafu fish (whichever cut they’re offering that day). HIFUMI is located in the Chinese Cultural Plaza, in the heart of Chinatown, Honolulu.

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  46. Wow, what an EPIC taste test! good job! i recently started trying to make my own tonkatsu sauce after really hating the kikkoman brand. a combo of ketchup, spicy mustard, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce tasted a lot better than Kikkoman. then I got a new cookbook, “Japanese Soul Cooking,” that has a tonkatsu sauce that is supposed to replicate Bulldog with a whopping 20 ingredients, from tomatoes and apples to spices and kombu. It has taken me about two hours to make it from start to finish, and im not sure its any better than the quick combo of ketchup & other ingredients just stirred together. i liked the thickness of that and that mustard kick. but, you may want to try to make it and see what you think!

    ingredients:

    1 T. vegetable oil
    2 medium onions
    2 medium apples
    1 pound tomatoes
    3 cloves garlic
    2 cups sake
    3 cups water (i would have preferred 2 or less cups here)
    2 teaspoons salt
    1/4 c. sugar
    1/2 c. soy sauce
    1/2 c. vinegar
    1 T. tomato paste
    1 piece kombu
    1 bay leaf
    pinch of:
    cayenne
    ground white pepper
    cinnamon
    nutmeg
    allspice
    2 T. Worcestershire

    Sautee onions in oil for 10 min until brown. Add everything up until the bay leaf. Boil and then turn down to simmer for 30 minutes.

    Remove kombu and bay leaf, let cool. Blend in batches and strain. Return to pan and add spices and Worcestershire and simmer 10 additional minutes. Let cool before serving.

    • Kristin,

      Mahalo for sharing the Tonkatsu Sauce recipe! Sounds about right, with the sauteed onions, apples and tomatoes in there, as Tonkatsu Sauce is also known as a “Vegetable and Fruit Sauce”. I read a couple Tonkatsu sauce recipes that called for Apple Sauce, which validates that important flavor component which makes for authentic Japanese Tonkatsu Sauce.

      I bet if you took your basic homemade Tonkatsu sauce using Kikkoman shoyu, ketchup, spicy mustard, vinegar and Worcestershire mixture (as you do), and added Apple Sauce to that, it’d turn out equally as satisfying and authentic to the Japanese shops.

      I think that’s the trick. No wonder they display whole suckling pigs with an apple in its mouth. Natural combo’!

  47. Great article! how thorough was that! and really fair and well balanced commentary also, a really enjoyable and informative read, and full of great pix also. thank you

  48. Wow that was an amazing effort on your part. Congratulations. Very scientific – well, as scientific as one can be when interpreting “taste” as taste is so individual depending on one’s preferences for acidic, spicy ‘n zesty, savory ‘n robust flavors in their food. And those pictures were amazing. I appreciate all the effort and time it took you to come to your conclusions. Thank you so much. I wish the Bairin Tokusen was available here in California, I would surely try it at your recommendation. I guess if I buy any, it would have to be the Ikari or I could try some of the top rated homemade recipes and see how they turn out. Bulldog, unfortunately, was a deal breaker for me when I saw it had High Fructose Corn Syrup. Bummah. And it was the third one listed in their ingredients after water and sugar (another sweetener) so you know that’s a whole lot of High Fructose Corn Syrup and a whole lot of sugar in there. I wonder why they chose to use such a controversial American GMO ingredient when there are so many sweeteners they could have chose that are so much healthier. And this product is made in Japan. I would hate to think it was the HFC that gave it that je ne sais quoi that pleased your palette over the 8 others you sampled.

    • kazy,

      I wasn’t factoring in good or “bad” ingredients such as HFC or MSG when doing this Tonkatsu sauce comparison. Strictly flavor and texture (mainly viscosity).

      Looking at the ingredients for, say, Hawaiian Sun fruit drinks and fruit jellies (guava), the sweeteners are sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup.

      I just did a comparison of Mexican Coca Cola vs. Coca Cola sold in the U.S., where the clear difference is the US Coke uses HFC while the Mexican Coke uses sugar, which is why many prefer the Mexican Coke.

      http://tastyislandhawaii.com/2014/07/04/mexican-coca-cola-vs-american-coca-cola/

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