Bowl of tonkotsu ramen with pork belly
The Important Distinction Between Tonkatsu And Tonkotsu
"Tonkatsu" and "tonkotsu" may be just one letter apart, and both terms are under the umbrella of Japanese cuisine, but these words refer to two completely different dishes.
"Ton" translates to pig or pork in Japanese, and both of these dishes feature pork. However, tonkatsu is a fried pork dish, while tonkotsu is a popular type of ramen noodle soup.
The "katsu" in tonkatsu comes from the Japanese word "katsuretsu," meaning cutlet. This dish consists of a pork cutlet pounded thin, breaded in panko breadcrumbs, and deep-fried.
Also often called just "katsu," tonkatsu is typically served with shredded cabbage and a Worcestershire-based sauce. It becomes a complete meat when paired with white rice.
Tonkatsu is a mash-up of Japanese and Western cuisine, and traces back to the 1800s. It was inspired by French côtelette de veau, or veal cutlets pan-fried in breadcrumbs.
Meanwhile, the "kotsu" in tonkotsu means "bone." This refers to the thick, creamy pork bone broth that defines this style of soup, also called Hakata ramen after its birthplace.
The broth for tonkotsu ramen is boiled for hours, breaking down the gelatin in pork bones until the broth is creamy and opaque. The noodle soup is often topped with more pork.
All ramen varieties, including tonkatsu, are the result of Chinese influence. Chinese settlers in Japan brought Chinese-style noodle dishes with them, which evolved into ramen.
Tonkotsu is younger than tonkatsu, invented by Katsumi Sugino in 1937. However, both are delicious pork dishes that owe influence to nations outside of Japan.