Kushikatsu: The Best Deep-Fried Skewers in Tokyo

Kushikatsu: The Best Deep-Fried Skewers in Tokyo

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Kushikatsu
Picture: コロコロコロッケ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
A lot of Japanese food is very healthy. And then there's kushikatsu. Learn where to enjoy this fried treat on a stick on your next visit.

Japanese cuisine has a reputation for being healthy. While much of it is, this is also a country that loves itself some fried foods. While most people know about kara-age (fried chicken), fewer know about its delicious cousin: kushikatsu (串カツ) or deep-fried skewers. Learn more about where this treat came from and the most popular places to eat it in Tokyo – both affordable and, well…not so affordable.

The history of kushikatsu

Kushiyaki with sauce
Picture: BASICO / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Kushikatsu is a variation on kushiyaki, or skewered food. Most popular in Japan as yakitori (焼き鳥), or roasted chicken on skewers, mentions of kushiyaki date back to at least the 17th century. Yakitori is mentioned as a delicacy that dates back to Japan’s Heian era.

Kushikatsu is basically a battered and deep-friend kushiyaki. However, no one quite knows where it comes from or exactly how long it’s been part of Japanese cuisine. Some reports say it may date back to the Meiji era in Japan’s 19th century. That would mean it predates modern kara-age, which only dates back to the 20th century’s Showa era.

From the best anyone can tell, the dish originated in the shitamachi (下町), or working-class towns, of Tokyo. In the Kanto region that encompasses Tokyo, it became popular as a dish made with pork and onions. This variation commonly goes by the name kushi-age (串揚げ).

From there, it spread to Western Japan and the Kansai/Kinki region. While pork/onion skewers exist in Kansai and go by the name “kushikatsu”, you’ll also find the dish made with beef, seafood, and vegetables.

Nagoya and the surrounding Chukyo region have their own variant, which comes served in doteni (どて煮), a beef sinew stewed in a combination of miso and mirin. The dish is thought to be the predecessor of regional favorite miso-katsu (味噌カツ), fried foods like pork cutlet (and kushikatsu, pictured above) served covered in a thick miso sauce.

The two big kushiyaki chains compared

Kushikatsu
Picture: BASICO / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

So where are the best places to get kushikatsu or kushi-age while in Tokyo?

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Two of the most popular chains include Kushikatsu Tanaka and Kushiya Monogatari. Our friends at mov, a company that analyzes Internet reviews of businesses in Japan, recently compared both chains head-to-head to see how they compared. Of the two, mov found Tanaka came out on top with positive keywords such as “cheerful” and “polite” used in store review. The keywords associated with Kushiya, by contrast, were mostly negative.

Another good point for foreign tourists: Kushikatsu faired better in how it handles non-Japanese visitors. Reviews for Kushiya in all non-Japanese languages with the exception of Thai had higher negative connotations.

You’re also more liable to find a Kushiyaki Tanaka just walking around than a Kushiya. You’ll find one (if not more) in every major ward of Tokyo, with the chain’s stores averaging a 4.0-star review on Google. By contrast, Kushiya only has nine locations.

Where else to get your kushiyaki on in Tokyo

Of course, those are just two major chains. There are other, smaller places in Tokyo where you can enjoy deep-fried goodness on a stick.

According to Japanese review site Tabelog, the top-rated location is Pyon in Minato City’s Roppongi neighborhood. However, be prepared to say goodbye to your hard-earned money. While kushikatsu is typically cheap eats – think around 2,000 yen (USD $6.70 to $14.50) per person – Pyon serves a high-end variant. Dinner here will run you between 20,000 and 30,000 yen (USD $134 to $201) for a meal!

You’ll also need to get in early to make a reservation. I wrote this on March 19th and Pyon was booked solid, with new reservations not opening until April 1st.

If that price doesn’t rattle you, you can also consider Michelin star-awarded kushiage restaurant Rokukakutei in Ginza. Everything is served as a course meal in omakase (chef’s choice) style, with the Chef’s Omakase Course running ¥14,520 ($97.36) per person. The restaurant also has locations in Azabu-juban and Shinjuku.

On the more affordable side, there’s Shinjuku’s Tenkawanya, a joint specializing in Osaka-style kushikatsu. Unlike the high-end Michelin-geared joints in Roppongi and Ginza, you’ll be able to fill your stomach for an average of 3,000 yen ($20).

What to read next

Sources

串カツ. Wikipedia JP

焼き鳥. Wikipedia JP

鶏びあ. Tori Sanwa

「串カツ」との違いや食べ方. Kushiage

串カツチェーン4ブランドの口コミ約6.6万件を徹底調査!串カツ業界の口コミの傾向は?PRTimes

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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