The Story: Sure, most Americans know all about Sushi, Teriyaki and Tempura, and maybe even that other slurpy, satisfying Japanese food staple, Ramen. But Japanese food, including Japanese street food, contains such a bigger repertoire. And it’s nice to see carts like Katsu Zoku bringing even more Japanese food diversity to our fair city.
Katsu Zoku specializes in, yep, Katsu – thin pounded meats (usually pork, but often chicken, hamburger steak, or even tofu and other veggies) breaded in Panko bread crumbs, and fried. It is often served with Japanese style curry (which is quite different – sweeter and more of a dark, thick gravy – than say and Indian or Thai curry), or Katsu is often put on top of rice and covered with the soft egg and soy/dashi broth sauce known as “Oyako”. Recent additions at Katsu Zoku also include Katsu’s Cousin: Korroke – seasoned meat or vegetable fritters.
Both foods have a fun history and it’s always fascinating to me to see how cultures can adopt and adapt food from other places into their own cuisines, sometimes going back centuries, sometimes just decades. In Japan, Katsu cuisine isn’t really Asian at all but “Asian-Fusion” introduced into Japan by Portuguese traders in the 1890s. It became what is now known as a form of cuisine in Japan called “Yoshoku”, translated to mean “Western Food”. Side story, a very traditional Japanese restaurant I used to work at served the staff Korroke and curry with hot-dogs and every one loved it – that to me is just hilarious, but I’ll admit “traditional” or not, the stuff was tasty.
Korroke was introduced to Japan even later in the early 1900s, and is an adaptation of the French “Croquettes”. Ah, I could go on and on, but you can just get more of a history lesson over at Wikipedia, as you wish.
It’s nice though when a cart specializes in just one or two dishes, like they do here at Katsu Zoku, and that’s pretty much the custom in other parts of the world too, especially Japan. This gives the vendors a chance to really focus on and hone their food to perfection rather than being schizophrenically all over the menu map, trying to be all things to all people and ending up paling down all of them. In deft hands under the guidance of people who care, specialized carts like this one become a sense of pride and accomplishment, attracting loyal fans near and far. Some might even say carts like this one can become an art form.
Sure, most cooks can pound, bread, fry a piece of meat and throw it on a plate. But I’m pleased to report Katsu Zoku takes this sense of focused food pride and Japanese food cart history seriously – small menu, food made to order, clean oil, fresh ingredients, and a light touch with the frying makes for a crackling breaded crust, moist and tender ingredients on the inside, and miraculously not at all greasy. Even this cart’s very Western Katsu Sandwich with Special Sauce beats the pants off most fried chicken sandwiches you might wait in line an hour for at some hit restaurants around town. Can’t wait to see what Katsu Zoku does with Tempura, promised as “coming soon” on their menu!
People talk a lot about the appeal of food carts as being “fast and cheap”. And sure, that’s certainly part of the appeal to many cart diners. Another attraction, for this author anyway, is visiting carts that can make some of the best food you’ve ever tasted out of a kitchen the size of a postage stamp – and honor history and really give it their all. Katsu Zoku does exactly just that. Nicely done Master Katsu Zoku-san, nicely done indeed.
- Katsu Curry – Breaded pork cutlet over Japanese curry served with rice and fukujinsuke (Japanese Pickles) – $6
- Chicken Katsu Curry – Japanese style curry with breaded chicken on top, served with side of rice and fukujinsuke (Japanese Pickles) – $6
- Vegetarian Curry – Curry with potatoes, seasonal vegetables, rice and fukujinsuke- $5. Add Tofu – $6
- Chicken Katsu Sandwich – On sesame seed bun with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and special sauce.
- Tonkatsu – $5
- Katsu Don – Rice bowl topped with pork or chicken katsu, egg and onions simmered in Japanese dashi konbu stock finished with 7-spice (tongarashi) – $7
- Bacon & Beef Korroke – (fried croquettes) with fresh Serrano chilis -1 for $2, or 3 for $5
- Vegetarian Sweet Potato Korroke – with Diced Carrots and Onions – 1 for $2 or 3 for $5
- Suimono – vinegared cucumber salad – $2