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Katsu is not a sauce. So what is katsu? We look into what the word means presently in the UK and how it came to Japan.

Katsu is not a sauce

Katsu is not a sauce. This is a common thought which seems to be concentrated within the UK itself. Australians and Americans do not make this mistake, so I’m not sure how it initially occurred within these shores. I largely put it down to bad marketing as it seems every time a Japanese curry sauce is advertised, it defaults to the term “katsu sauce”.

A quick look on Twitter under the hashtag #KatsuCurryPolice yields several posts that are disgruntled by this phenomenon.

What is katsu?

Vegetable katsu with japanese curry and rice, from Osaka Local
Vegetable Katsu with Japanese curry and rice, from Osaka Local

Katsu (カツ) is simply the shortened version of the word katsuretsu (カツレツ), meaning cutlet. This of course would refer to the fried, breadcrumbed item, and not the sauce. As a variation of croquettes, the dish started in France in the early 1700s but grew in popularity throughout Europe.

The Polish then brought this idea to Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912), where a restaurant by the name of Rengatei in the fashionable area of Ginza, Tokyo, served it. [1] Tonkatsu aka pork-cutlet was served with a sauce similar to Worcester sauce, shredded cabbage and rice.

Aside from tonkatsu, other popular katsu dishes include:

  • Katsudon: ‘pork cutlet-bowl’, a rice bowl with sliced cutlet on top served with egg, vegetables and condiments
  • Katsu sando: ‘pork cutlet sandwich’, a sandwich with a pork cutlet, cabbage, butter and sometimes dijon mustard in the middle
  • Katsu kare: ‘cutlet curry’, cutlet served with a Japanese curry sauce

Pork is the main meat for katsu, but other items are popular including beef, chicken, prawn, tofu and vegetables!

The word ‘katsu’ also sounds like the Japanese phrase “to win” (勝つ). For this reason, sometimes people eat tonkatsu before a big event to ensure they win at the task, whether it be a sporting event, a test or an interview. This theme can sometimes be seen in Japanese movies.

What about the sauce?

Home made Japanese curry with carrots, onion and pork
Homemade Japanese curry with carrots, onion and pork

In short, the sauce is just Japanese curry. Katsu is not the name of the sauce.

The sauce is of course inspired by Indian curries, but it was actually the British who introduced Japan to it, via their colonisation of India at the time. The Japanese adopted a similar way of naming the sauce too, karē (カレー), pronounced ‘kah-reh’.

Naturally, the sauce was adjusted to appeal to a Japanese palate, so it is milder and sweeter than Indian curries. Apple or honey is sometimes added as a result.

Japanese curry is commonly eaten with rice (with or without a katsu), udon (a type of thick wheat noodle) or inside bread (akin to a stuffed bread). Obviously, with a katsu, the sauce is added on top. But when it is served without a katsu, additional ingredients include potatoes, carrots, onions and a protein like chicken.

Where to get good katsu in Manchester

  • Osaka Local: Street food vendor based in Manchester. Reiko has been bringing authentic katsu kare since April 2019. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram to find out where she’ll be next!
  • Yuzu Manchester: They’ve made it to the Good Food Guide 2015-2020 for good reason. Get your katsu small plates here, served with a fruity sauce (similar to Worcester)
  • Yane: New arrival in Manchester run by a couple of British Born Chinese. Try their katsu kare! Order via their website or Deliveroo.
  • Manzoku Sushi: Gina is a friend so I am biased here. She does however make a good chicken and tofu katsu curry.

References

[1] Rengatei: venerable Ginza eaterie is birthplace of ‘yoshoku’ classics .. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://japantoday.com/category/features/food/rengatei-venerable-ginza-eaterie-is-birthplace-of-yoshoku-classics-like-tonkatsu-and-omuraisu.