Katsu Curry has become a beloved dish all around the world. There is even a ‘Katsu Curry Day’ celebrated on the 28th of September each year. But what is it that has made the dish so popular in so many places?
What Is Katsu Curry?
Technically Katsu and curry are two different dishes, that is, it is Katsu with a Japanese curry sauce. Katsu means ‘fried cutlet’. It is generally a breaded piece of meat that is similar in appearance to a German schnitzel.
Katsu can be served with a variety of things. In western territories the word Katsu has become intertwined with curry. Many people believe that the term katsu refers to the dish including the sauce, rather than as a separate entity.
The curry part of a Katsu curry is a Japanese-style curry sauce that is made from a roux of curry powder, oil, flour, and other spices. It is sweeter than Indian curry and milder in flavor. It adds a universal appeal as even those who don’t like spicy food can enjoy a Japanese curry sauce.
The History Of Katsu Curry
To look at the history of Katsu curry in international cuisine is It first helpful to consider the origins of the curry itself and how it became part of Japanese culture.
In the late 1900s, in the Mejj era of Japan, the British introduced curry to the Japanese population. The British western style of curry was much milder than its Indian counterparts and adapted well to Japanese cuisine. Indian curry also surged in popularity in Japan in the early 20th century as more Indian restaurants were established in Japan.
Katsu itself was invented in a restaurant in Tokyo in 1899 and is known as pork katsuretsu, or pork cutlet. It was considered an adaptation of European cuisine and the term tonkatsu was established in the 1930s. Tonkatsu combines pork and cutlet into one word. As the cutlet element was changed to different meats the ‘ton’ part of the name was dropped and the term katsu was adopted in full.
Before this, katsu had been made from beef and not deep-fried, but it was developed into its current form because of Emperor Mejj’s determination to modernize Japan and Japanese food and make it more westernized, and therefore more appealing to its western visitors.
The pairing of Japanese curry sauce and Katsu came about due to their ease of preparation. Katsu is easy to prepare and cook and Japanese curry sauce can be bought ready-made or in powder or block form making it an easy dish to prepare. The ease of the dish meant it was appealing to restaurants looking to serve their western clients and from this, the dish spread in popularity around japan and onwards throughout the rest of the world.
Many countries now serve Katsu curry and Hawaii serves it as one of their popular mixed plate lunch meals. The US and the UK have seen the rise in popularity of the dish in both Japanese and western restaurants and many supermarkets offer Katsu curry as a sauce or as a ready meal option.
The Rise In Popularity Of Japanese Cuisine
Before we consider the rise in popularity of Japanese cuisine, it is worth noting that Japanese culture, in general, has seen a wider global reach towards the end of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first century. Social media has caused an explosion in the popularity of Japanese anime (animation), kawaii (cute objects and designs), and manga (Japanese comics), and with this comes more of an interest in Japanese culture in general as well as in Japanese cuisine.
Between 2017 and 2019 the number of Japanese restaurants in Asia alone increased by 30%.
Japanese cuisine often has a rice or noodle base and dishes aimed at sharing. The accessibility of the food and the opportunities for variations according to taste means that the cuisine has become a firm favourite around the world.
Curry itself is one of the world’s most popular dishes with more than 90% of people eating curry at least occasionally. By combining the milder flavors of japan with the popularity of curry it is no wonder that Katsu curry has become such a firm favorite with the entire world.
Katsu Curry Variants
Katsu curry may originally have been a pork-based dish but over the years the idea of a ‘cutlet’ has grown to be more than it referring to a breaded piece of meat. Many variants now exist which only increase how popular the dish is.
Chicken katsu curry appeals to those meat eaters who prefer to stick to a simple white meat. With a chicken katsu being rather like that of a chicken Kiev in coating, or a large chicken nugget, it is easy to see why it has become a popular choice for having as part of a katsu curry. Other meat options for a Katsu curry are beef, pork, and turkey. All of these have a mass appeal as choices for Katsu.
There has been a steep rise in vegan and vegetarian eating with Japanese restaurants offering a huge array of meat-free plant-based dishes. The Katsu curry has become one of the most popular meat-free dishes in Japanese food.
The Katsu element of the katsu curry can be made using meat substitutes such as tofu, tempeh (tofu-based), or seitan (a meat substitute made from wheat flour). These can be breaded and fried in the same way as a meat katsu would be and served with the curry sauce which Is naturally vegetarian. Sweet potato is also a popular choice for vegetarian katsu with its sweet flavor complementing the curry sauce well.
Overall, it is easy to see how and why katsu curry has become such a popular global dish. Its mildly sweet flavor and versatility make it a great dish whether you are dining out or eating at home.