Good Eats

Tonkichi とん吉 @ Orchard

I was blown away when I first came here years ago with my family by the all-you-can-eat rice and cabbage salad. But the star of the restaurant is still its tonkatsu.

Tonkichi is the pioneer of the ‘tonkatsu’ specialty restaurant concept とんかつ屋 in Singapore, being the first Japanese restaurant to serve up the iconic breaded deep-fried pork cuisine to countless Singaporeans and local Japanese residents since it started in 1992.

Difference between Tempura and Tonkatsu

Agemono (揚げ物), literally meaning deep-fried thing in Japanese, is the generic name for deep-fried foods, such as tempura (天ぷら), kakiage (かき揚げ), karaage (唐揚げ), katsu (カツ) and furai (フライ).

Snow crab tempura かに天ぷら

Tempura was introduced in the 1600s by Portuguese missionaries. The original dish has disappeared, but it was a meal meant for Lent, when many Christian denominations are forbidden to eat meat. In fact, the name tempura comes from the Latin ad tempora cuaresme, which means ‘in the time of Lent. ‘The Japanese mistook this as the dish’s name and called it tempura.

掻揚げ 1品

What makes tempura different from katsu and other fried fare (furais) is its distinctive batter. Tonkatsu and other furais are never called tempura. Tempura is never breaded, and is not seen as a kind of furai. Ingredients for tempura are not seasoned. Karaage uses a dry coat of flour and the ingredients are seasoned before coating.

剣立ち (けんだち) Kendachi

And a good piece of tonkatsu or furai must exhibit the characteristic of 剣立ち (けんだち) kendachi, the panko (breadcrumbs) that are specially made to stand up like golden swords.

Condiments for konkatsu

Tonkatsu is usually served with a bit of hot yellow mustard called karashi (辛子, からし) and a thick tonkatsu sauce that has a sweet and tangy flavour. While the recipe for tonkatsu sauce varies from restaurant to restaurant, common ingredients include fruity Worcestershire sauce and tomato ketchup.

Toasted sesame seeds can be grounded with a mortar and pestle and mixed into the sauce for extra flavour. This step is always done table side ala minute by the diner in any respectable tonkatsu restaurant as the action releases the fragrance of the sesame for that fleeting minute. One is encouraged to pour the tonkatsu sauce on it, but I never liked the sauce and usually just sprinkle the crushed sesame powder on the shredded cabbage.

Oyster Furai カキフライ

ala carte order of fried oyster

Oyster furai

The oysters furai (sound like “fry”) came with a beautiful tartar sauce with bits of pickles, like how they used to do it in fish and chips shops in Singapore. The tartar sauce reminded me of the sauce used the fish burger sold by the famous clown. Each one of these fried oysters was the size of a ping pong ball.

Radioactive mutants – how they got so big

The deep frying had not dried out the oyster. Au contraire, the oysters were plump and juicy, all the goodness was locked in by the golden crust. Full of umami from the oyster and the satisfaction of eating something deep fried, this is a must order.

Hire ヒレ & Rosu ロース Katsu Set 豚カツ

Deep fried pork fillet and loin c/w rice, miso soup, cabbage and pickles

Deep fried pork fillet and loin c/w rice, miso soup, cabbage and pickles

Slices of tonkatsu dipped into ground sesame sauce 胡麻ソース and/or tonkatsu sauce simply must be accompanied by steamed white rice. As the fat from the pork melts into the sauce, each bite is perfectly matched by fluffy rice. And they only used Japanese rice, which has a higher starchiness, for their steamed rice and you can eat as many bowls as you want as long as you don’t waste.

Hire & Rosu Katsu Set

The katsu set came with two cuts of pork – the loin (equivalent of a steak ribeye cut) and the fillet (the tenderloin cut). You can do variations by changing the origin of the pork – American Berkshire, Japanese Kurobuta or Spanish Iberico. Technically they are all black-haired pig, but if the origins are respected (ie they really came from what they claimed) then I would go for Spanish pork anytime.

Pork loin, can you see the kendachi?

But frankly, I have not been able to taste the difference in these chain restaurants. Remember even the pork has different classifications, just like wagyu. I stuck to the original American pork loin, and you can still see the pinkish juicy loin that was cut sideways.

Pork fillet, plenty of kendachi

The standard of the tonkatsu here at Tonkichi has been exemplary and kept high over the years. Even a dry, lean piece of pork like the fillet was still juicy and tender.

Prawn & Rosu Katsu Set

Deep fried pork loin and prawn C/W rice, miso soup, cabbage and pickles

Deep fried pork loin and prawn C/W rice, miso soup, cabbage and pickles

Princess went for the surf and turf, and had two pieces of ebi-furai (deep fried prawns) instead of the loin. The difference between furai and katsu is that furai (fry) is only used to describe all fried stuff that is breaded, but only meat and poultry can be called katsu (cutlet)

Aburi Salmon Roll

Crab stick, cucumber and avocado

Aburi salmon roll, crab stick, cucumber and avocado

Only the katsus were delicious. The sushi roll was not.

Among the tonkatsu-ya とんかつ屋, Tonkichi is one for the family. But I was disappointed that they did not provide the mashed daikon and ponzu sauce. Nevertheless it does encouraged the kids to eat cabbage.

Tonkichi とん吉 (Isetan Scotts)
350 Orchard Road, Isetan Scotts, Level 4, Shaw House, Singapore 238868
Tel : +65 6835 4648

Visited Jul 2023

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