Japanese Pork Dishes to Try: From Tonkatsu to Yakiton
Pork is the most popular meat in Japan, eaten to the equivalent of both chicken and beef combined. In particular, it is a central part of cuisine in Kyushu, Okinawa, and the Kanto region (East Japan).
Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu is the largest pork producer in Japan and is famous for its kurobuta black Berkshire pigs, while Okinawa has enjoyed its own native species of pig called “agu”, which date back to when Okinawa was still the Ryukyu Kingdom. In the Kanto region, pork was especially popular because pigs were easier than cattle for the samurai to raise alongside their horses.
Pork in Japan can be enjoyed everywhere from at home to specialty restaurants and izakaya pubs accompanied by a cold drink.
The Many Delicious Ways to Eat Pork in Japan
Yakiton is a dish of bite-sized pieces of pork that are skewered and cooked over a grill, similar to the chicken version, yakitori. In addition to more familiar cuts of meat like pork loin and pork belly, don’t be afraid to try some of the more unique items like pork jowl and liver.
Motsu-Nabe, Motsu-Yaki, and Nikomi
The term “motsu” refers to offal, the inners of an animal such as intestines and liver, and there are several popular ways of eating these cuts of pork in Japan. One dish is motsu-nabe, a regional style of hot pot from Fukuoka prefecture in Kyushu, which is boldly seasoned with garlic chives, chili pepper spice, and miso or soy sauce. The strong taste of the broth holds up well to the distinct flavor of the organ meat. Other motsu dishes to try include motsu-yaki, or grilled pork giblets, and motsu nikomi, a dish of pork giblets braised in a tender stew.
Buta-maki are pork-wrapped foods which may be pan-fried, steamed, or skewered and grilled as yakiton. Popular combinations for buta-maki include bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes, bacon and asparagus, and thinly sliced pork rolled up with shiso (perilla herb).
Tonkatsu is a deep-fried pork cutlet that’s breaded in crispy panko crumbs and served with a thick and fruity brown sauce. It’s considered the most famous of pork dishes in Japan, where it’s considered a type of yoshoku, or Western-style food, and is similar to German schnitzel. Tonkatsu, or pork katsu, can be eaten in a teishoku set with shredded raw cabbage and a side of rice, in katsudon (a bowl of hot rice topped with sliced tonkatsu, onions, and egg), katsu curry (Japanese curry and rice with tonkatsu), or a katsu sando (a sandwich of white bread, tonkatsu, and sauce).
Tonkotsu ramen is one of the “Top 3” most popular varieties of ramen in Japan. It originated in the Hakata region of northern Kyushu and features a bowl of creamy white pork bone soup eaten with thin straight noodles served al dente, sliced green onion, and tender slices of barbecued pork char siu.
Nikujaga is a dish of meat and potatoes, made with thinly sliced pork simmered with vegetables in a dashi and soy sauce broth. The dish is considered to be one of the great comfort foods of Japan and reminds many people of their mother’s home cooking. It’s typically eaten as part of a traditional Japanese meal with rice, miso soup, and several vegetable side dishes.
Shabu Shabu and Rei-Shabu
Shabu shabu is a dish of thinly sliced meat and bite-sized vegetables swished lightly in a rolling broth. The dish gets its name from the onomatopoeia “shabu, shabu” which means “swish, swish”. When eaten with pork, it’s referred to as “buta shabu”. Buta shabu meat can be chilled and served cold over a salad or cold noodle dish for a refreshing meal in the summertime called “rei-shabu”.
Shogayaki is a dish of pan-fried pork loin and ginger. It’s very quick and easy to make and is a common dish for bento lunch boxes and Japanese home cooking. After tonkatsu, it’s considered the second most popular pork dish in Japan.
Gyoza is a dish of steamed, boiled, or pan-fried dumplings filled with minced pork and vegetables. It’s considered a type of chuka ryori, or Chinese food. Although gyoza originated in China, however, the flavor has been adapted over time to suit the Japanese palate. It’s often found on the menu at ramen shops or chuka ryori restaurants.
Butadon, also known as “tondon”, is a pork bowl dish that’s the counterpart to gyudon, or beef bowl. Thinly sliced pork and onions are simmered in a soy sauce broth until tender and served in a donburi bowl over rice. The dish shot up in popularity when many fast food chains pulled beef from their menus due to BSE fears in the 2000s. Although beef eventually returned to menus, butadon has still remained very popular.
Similar to motsu-yaki, horumon-yaki refers specifically to pork intestines, which are marinated in a bold sauce and grilled. It goes great with beer and sake.
Kakuni is a dish of pork belly cubes stewed slowly in a soy sauce broth until they become meltingly tender and rich. The dish is also known as “rafute” in Okinawa, where it is a highly prized local dish.
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Pig Out on These Tasty Japanese Pork Dishes
Taste pork like you’ve never had it before on your next visit to Japan. Check out the restaurant listings at Gurunavi for the best guide to restaurants specializing in pork dishes. Itadakimasu!