In Korea, we need to sample some Donkas
BUSAN, South Korea -- During my first few months in Korea, my hagwon boss took our staff out for lunch. We went to a little Japanese donkas (돈까스) place in Namcheon-dong, and I pointed to the picture on the menu of the dish that looked like the largest portion—I was hungry. I savored every bite of the pork cutlet, which was served in an iron skillet in a thin layer of kimchi, mushroom and onion stew, and smothered with melted mozzarella cheese.
Though I’ve eaten my fair share of donkas since, I have always raved about this particular dish—it was like a Korean-ized version of a Japanese dish that was a take on an Italian Parmesan plate.
When, a few months back, a friend and I were wandering around Centum City in search of donkas, I went on a little rant about my kimchi-donkas-parmesan and how I’ve yet to have anything that compares. We turned a corner and noticed what appeared to be a donkas restaurant on the second floor of the SH Valley building, on the same block as the new Cinema Center.
We settled into a table at Ton Katsu Hana (하나돈까스) and opened our menus. And there it was: my dish. Out came my jazz hands as I bounced in my seat, shouting “This is it! This is the thing I was talking about!” Turns out, the dish is called Kimchi Cheese Pork Cutlet Stew (김치치즈돈까스나베).
It’s no coincidence that this place happened to have the exact same dish I remembered so fondly—it is, in fact, a franchise of the restaurant I went to in Namcheon years ago. Kim Gab-ju opened the first two Ton Katsu Hana restaurants (Namcheon and Oncheonjang) in 1999, and its popularity spurred a string of franchises. Today, there are 10 sites around Busan, the most recent being the Centum branch, opened in November of 2010.
Not only was the dish as good as (if not better than) I remembered it, but the ginger wasabi salad dressing had the perfect palate-cleansing kick and the scalliony broth in the udon had a rich, non-fishy flavor. The next time I ate at Ton Katsu Hana, I tried the shrimp cutlet stew (새우나베), a similar dish made with deep-fried jumbo shrimp rather than pork. Also worth a mention is the clean, lovely atmosphere, attentive service and killer prices (all meals are under 10,000 won).
Between shopping at Shinsegae and attending BIFF films, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Centum City, and I’ve always been hard pressed to find a go-to restaurant in the area. Now I’ve got my number one.
Getting there: In the Centum City subway, take the escalator at exit 4, walk straight and turn right at the second corner. The SH Valley building is on the left side, second floor. Ton Katsu Hana is open seven days a week, from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Call them at 051-747-8244.