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[Eat It]: The Tonkatsu Sandwich

Two of the greatest innovations in food history, the fried pork chop and the sandwich, join forces at Ginza Bairin in the IFC Mall.
Last updated: 2015-11-09

Eat It is a regular feature that cuts to the core of a given restaurant's menu, highlighting a specialty, favorite, or otherwise good thing to eat.

Japan has taken a lot of things from the West and improved upon them. Cars and consumer electronics come to mind. But I think the true hero of Japan is the guy was that brought the schnitzel back to Japan and turned it into tonkatsu. It's been a staple since the 19th century and Ginza Bairin has been dealing in the stuff for almost as long. For 84 years, they've stuck to a single maxim: Everything tastes better when it's dipped in egg, dredged in bread crumbs and immersed in hot vegetable oil.

They do a fair job with oysters, for instance...

They taste like you'd expect -- a pleasant clash of crispiness and creaminess -- and are served with a little bit of mayo for dipping.

Their eel isn't half bad either...

Fresh and sweet with a buttery texture.

The selling point, however, is the pork. Ginza Bairin cook with the Kurobuta variety. If you're a British foodie, you may know of the breed as the Berkshire. It's a pig prized for its heavily marbled meat. It's kind of like the wagyu version of pork. This is their rosu, or tenderloin, katsu.

It looks like the oysters, only larger, doesn't it? Yeah. Fried foods all kind of look the same. This one is thick-cut and tender enough, but this cut of meat is naturally lower in fat and, hence, flavor. Not only that, at 118rmb, it's damn pricey, so go for the standard cutlet. In fact, don't just settle for meat alone. Order this...

What you have here is the katsu sandwich, or, as the Japanese call it, the katsu sando. It is a staple of Japan's the lunchtime bento box, and one of Ginza Bairin's signature dishes. As with most Japanese cuisine, its virtue is beauty in simplicity: Two pillowy slices of Wonder-esque white bread gently embracing a crispy, tender, succulent, deep-fried pork cutlet. A subtle schmear of wasabi-laced sauce -- just enough to clear the sinuses with every bite -- glazes the cutlet and seeps ever so slightly into the bread. Notice also that the crust has been lovingly cut from the bread, just like Mom used to do with your PB&Js.

I'll level with you. This place isn't terribly cheap. The sandwich will set you back 68rmb, and that's one of the cheaper options. The oysters are 28 a piece, the eel 138, and you already know the price of the tenderloin. I'm sure they justify their prices with that premium pork and their ritzy surroundings. Therefore, the best deals here are the set meals. You can order almost everything that they deep-fry for 98-128rmb and they'll throw in a bowl of miso soup, a side of Japanese pickles, and unlimited helpings or steamed rice and the traditional accompaniment of shredded cabbage, to ensure you don't walk out hungry. If it's any consolation, draft beer is pretty reasonable, too. 20rmb for an Asahi draft.

For a listing, click here.