The Perfect Side Dish to Pork Cutlet Is… Cabbage?

Why katsu is paired with shredded cabbage in Japan

Kaki Okumura
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Published in
4 min readJul 4, 2020

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Photo: Melissa Tse/Moment/Getty Images

I was at the train station on my way home when my mom sent me a text about dinner — everyone else was out, and it seemed like it was just going to be the two of us.

What are you in the mood for? We can go out for dinner!

It didn’t take long for me to reply — we decided to go to one of my favorite restaurants in Shinjuku for fresh tonkatsu, or Japanese pork cutlet. I hadn’t had one in a while but was craving it after seeing an ad for it in our mailbox. “Served with fresh spring cabbage!” the newsletter read. It seems that the season for it has come around again.

I wondered why it’s always paired with cabbage. It’s not just pork cutlets at restaurants; a lot of fried foods tend to be served with raw cabbage, even when made at home. I asked my mom, but she wasn’t sure, so I did a bit of digging.

Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

Why katsu is always paired with shredded cabbage

Apparently, the pork cutlet was brought into Japan during the Meiji Era, in 1899 by a restaurant called Rengatei in Ginza, Tokyo. But when it was first served there, it was not served with raw shredded cabbage. In fact, the dish more closely resembled the schnitzel you’d find in Vienna or Germany, served with a side of potatoes and sautéed vegetables.

The restaurant was doing well, but due to the mandatory draft for the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, the owner suddenly found his kitchen short of hands. To save time, he changed the menu so that the pork cutlet would be served with raw shredded cabbage, rather than cooked vegetables.

Turns out the raw cabbage was a lot more popular— diners liked how it freshened the mouth and it didn’t make them feel so heavy or sluggish after. The restaurant gained a lot more popularity after the switch, and other restaurants began to serve their tonkatsu with shredded cabbage. Now, Japanese pork cutlets with shredded cabbage is the classic way to serve the dish.

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Kaki Okumura
Heated
Writer for

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱