Katsudon is a Japanese dish that consists of a large bowl of steamed rice topped with a thinly-sliced cutlet of breaded, deep-fried pork. The dish belongs to a category of foods called donburi, rice bowls with various toppings. In addition to the pork cutlet, katsudon usually includes an egg topping and a special broth.
The name “katsudon” is formed from parts of two words; tonkatsu and donburi. The name for the pork cutlet is tonkatsu, with “ton” meaning pork and “katsu” being a Japanese pronunciation of the English word “cutlet.” The word “donburi” means “large bowl” and is shortened to “don” as a suffix for rice dishes. The word “katsudon” means “pork cutlet rice bowl.”
Two types of pork are used for katsudon—lean and fatty. The lean version is called hirekatsu, and the fatty version is called rosukatsu. The tonkatsu cutlets are dipped in egg, dredged in panko bread crumbs, and deep-fried. The cutlet is then sliced into narrow strips and placed over steamed rice.
The broth for katsudon is made with a stock called dashi and a sweet Japanese sake called mirin. The broth is seasoned with soy sauce and simmered with green onions. Lightly beaten eggs are swirled into the broth and ladled over the dish. In another presentation, the eggs are poured directly on the cutlet.
There are several variations on katsudon. It is sometimes drizzled with tonkatsu sauce, which is similar to Worcestershire sauce. In Okayama, katsudon is topped with demi-glace and green peas; in Nagoya, it is served with miso sauce, and in Niigata, it is simply served with soy sauce.
The creation of katsudon is attributed to a Japanese high school student in 1923. Today, it is associated with school entrance examinations and sports competitions since the word “katsu” also means “to win.” Students often eat katsudon before these important events.
"Kitchen," the famous book by Banana Yoshimoto, features a humorous, but pivotal, scene involving katsudon. Mikage, the main character, orders katsudon in a restaurant and is so inspired by its quality that she orders a second helping for take-out. She then hires a taxi to drive her all the way to Isehara to deliver it to her best friend Yuichi. When she finds that the inn where he is staying is closed, she scales the wall of the building and ends up flat on her back in a puddle of rainwater on the roof.