Japanese cutlet a cut above the restWhen Japanese chefs adapted fried, breaded cutlet dishes from Europe, they turned them into something thoroughly Japanese.
They dusted a filet of top-quality meat with panko flour, fried it until the meat was done and the crust was light and crispy, and then sliced it so it was easy to eat with chopsticks. They named it donkatsu, a odd word formed from don, the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character for pork, and katsu, a short form of the Japanese approximation of the word cutlet.
Then they served their donkatsu with miso soup, shredded cabbage with citrus dressing, a bowl of steamed rice and Japanese pickles.
Koreans have been enjoying donkatsu for years. But now Saboten, a Tokyo-based chain that boasts 370 outlets in Japan, has raised the bar. The chain’s first restaurant in downtown Seoul can be found behind City Hall.
Its hirekatsu, or pork sirloin, is plump, juicy and sealed in an extra crispy batter. A filet weighing 130 grams costs 9,800 won (about $7.80); 100 grams is 8,500 won. The cutlet comes with the usual accompaniments, plus fruit, on a simple black tray. For an extra 1,000 won, diners can get a topping of oroshi, or grated radish, which complements the mustard sauce.
Saboten’s sauces are what make its donkatsu special. The sauces are combined with ground sesame seeds. At the beginning of the meal, each diner is given a mortar and pestle to grind the sesame seeds as finely or coarsely as he likes. The cutlet’s main sauce is a thick, brown Worcestershire-type sauce made with tomatoes, apples, carrots and onions. The tangy sauce enhances the delicate texture and flavor of the meat. The citrus dressing for the cabbage salad is fruity and light. Saboten’s own tartar sauce is served for shrimp or fish.
Popular sets include a fried shrimp set meal, which costs 13,000 won, and fried pork wrapped around asparagus, which can be ordered as a starter or as a set meal (9,800 won). For those wanting smaller portions, there’s the Lady’s Set Meal, which includes shrimp, sirloin and a croquette with a soft drink for 9,800 won.
A Japanese beer, like Sapporo (9,000 won), goes perfectly with the fried fare. Saboten also serves take-out meals.
Theme: Japanese donkatsu
Telephone: (02) 776-4510
Address: Behind City Hall, a five-minute walk from the Press Foundation Center
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Credit cards: Accepted
Parking: Street parking
by Ines Cho