Tonkotsu? Tonkatsu? Two Very Similar Words, But a Huge Difference

Chad Thiele Updated April 30, 2019
Tonkotsu vs Tonkatsu

Tonkotsu (toe-n-koh-tsu), tonkatsu (toe-n-kah-tsu)… one tiny vowel changes everything. It’s so easy to mix up these words. Have you caught yourself mixing these words up?

I see it all the time. I guess after 20 something years in Japan I’ve grown a keen eye for these errors.  It makes sense; they are so close — nothing to feel bad about.

But if you say the wrong word when asking a Japanese person for help, you’re going to get an answer you’re not expecting. Let’s cover each separately.

What is Tonkotsu?

Tonkotsu (豚骨) is a pork bone broth; normally used in ramen. The kanji you see here literally translates to pig bone

You’ll very quickly discover tonkotsu ramen is very different from ramen shop to ramen shop. Some will have thick, hearty soup — some a lighter, creamier — and almost every imaginable combination in between.

There are a metric bazillion ramen shops in Tokyo. You can’t possibly try every flavor of tonkotsu available. The amazing thing is if you enjoy the taste of tonkotsu, you’ll probably enjoy every bowl of tonkotsu ramen you try — no matter the shop and no matter what they’ve done to make theirs unique.

Update: my ramen handbook is out! Check it out, totally free, here on TokyoSpark.

Here’s a quality video showing tonkotsu being made. It’s not Japanese, but the chef goes through a ton of turmoil to make it and it exudes the effort it takes to create the perfect tonkotsu.

What is Tonkatsu?

Tonkatsu (豚カツ) is a fried pork cutlet. Pork battered and fried to perfection and usually served with shredded cabbage.

There are probably a trillion variations to try in Tokyo. You probably think I’m kidding, but there’s a lot! Okay, maybe not a trillion but you know what I mean.

I bet you could try a new tonkatsu place every day and not eat at the same restaurant for a few years. And there’d be new shops popping up all the time too. 

This fantastic video sums up the quality of Japanese tonkatsu very nicely. It’s one of my favorite videos about this delicious food.

As you can see, tonkotsu and tonkatsu have only one thing in common: they are both pork (豚) products.