I still remember the first time I had Japanese tonkatsu. It was at Tonkichi on the fourth floor of Isetan Scotts, more than two decades ago. There weren’t as many tonkatsu restaurants then, and Tonkichi was the go-to place if you wanted to indulge in some juicy panko-crusted deep-fried pork.
Ever since that first time, having a tonkatsu meal has always been one of my comfort foods, and after my cholesterol levels started rising, it’s also a guilty pleasure to be had only occasionally.
Sadly, the quality of Tonkichi has dropped over the years and it’s no longer my preferred choice. Happily though, many other chains have set up shop in Singapore, although I’m still waiting for my all-time favourite, Katsukura, to land on our shores.
We’ve had the tonkatsu at Katsukura in Japan several times in previous trips, either at their outlet at Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku or at the Kyoto Station Building, and we always leave satisfied.
They have limited-quantity daily specials that run out very quickly, and we always order those whenever we can, but even their standard rosu and hire pork chops are always of high quality. An added bonus is their tangy yuzu dressing for the obligatory bottomless shredded cabbage, because, someone is obsessed with yuzu.
Their closest branch outside of Japan is located in Bangkok’s new and swanky ICONSIAM mall along the Chao Phraya River. We had planned to visit last April but had to cancel out travel plans, because, you know.
Among all the tonkatsu restaurants geographically within Singapore, my current favourite is Tonkatsu by Ma Maison. They have several outlets throughout the island, but we always go to the one on the second floor of Mandarin Gallery.
It’s an airy space with the main seating area along the walls of the building and a secondary seating area in the central core, just across the corridor. There’s usually a queue during the weekends, so we always try to go for lunch on weekdays.
The specials at Ma Maison are their Kurobuta (literally “black pig”) tonkatsu sets and you can choose between the leaner hire or the fattier rosu. I remember that they used to have specials featuring Mangalitsa, another breed of black pig but with dense curly hairy, but I couldn’t find them on the menu this time.
The Wife opted for the Ebi & Hire katsu set while I chose the Negi Miso Rosu katsu set. Hiroshima oysters were in season and we each ordered a piece of the kaki furai as appetisers. We also added a side order of their curry sauce because it’s been consistently good and goes really well with the accompanying rice.
The deep-fried oysters arrived first, together with a slice of lemon, some shredded cabbage and a small dish of tartar sauce. Each bite was a juicy explosion of briny seafood flavour, and definitely a good way to start the meal. The oysters could have been plumper, but the rich umami taste made up for the slightly small-ish oysters.
My plate of negi miso rosu arrived with the pork drenched in thick black miso and topped with a big handful of roughly chopped leeks. It seems like a waste to drown the fried pork in sauce, but the meat was hearty enough to stand up to the miso, especially with the well-distributed pockets of fat that come with a good cut of rosu.
The leeks could have been slightly less rough-cut to provide a better balance, but given the choice of having the negi or the version without, I’d definitely add the negi. They provide some crunchiness and help cut through the rich and salty taste of the black miso sauce.
The Wife’s ebi & hire was served with the normal and spicy versions of the katsu sauce on the side, with white sesame sprinkled on top. Part of the fun of tonkatsu meals is grinding the whole sesame seeds yourself, using a wooden pestle and a ridged clay bowl acting as a mortar. I’m guessing that this was done away with due to the on-going pandemic, but hopefully it will make a comeback when things get better.
The deep-fried prawns were disappointingly dry and even though The Wife really wanted to have prawns that day, she grudgingly agreed that, on hindsight, it was not a good decision.
The hire katsu also tasted somewhat dry to me, but not to her though, as she said that she actually preferred her pork to be less fatty. Looking at the cross-sections of both cuts side-by-side, you can clearly tell which was the hire and which was the rosu.
With the exception of the ebi misstep, the rest of the lunch was very enjoyable and of the same quality as we remembered from our previous visits. We’ll most likely be back again for a repeat visit later this year.
Because sometimes, all you need to be happy is to have some fluffy rice with deep-fried pork coated in crunchy breadcrumbs and slathered with black miso, accompanied by a generous side of chunky curry sauce.