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J-town Beat: A Bowl Of Katsudon

There are some annoyances to spending most days in Little Tokyo: the traffic, the constant construction, the overflow of hipsters and homeless. But one reason I’m grateful to work here in J-Town is definitely the food.

Most days, since we’re busy on deadline, we eat in our office, but once a week we treat ourselves to a lunch at a local restaurant. There are so many great choices. Old favorites like Suehiro, TOT and Kouraku or newer places like Chinchikurin Okonomiyaki or Jist (the former Tokyo Café) — there’s a lot to choose from.

If you want Hawaiian, there’s Aloha Café in Honda Plaza, there is an amazing chirashi at Sushi Go 55 in Little Tokyo Galleria, and there are too many good ramen options to count.

We’re within walking distance of Arts District, where you can nosh on sausages and Belgian fries at Wurstkuche or decompress in the sublime space, sampling farm-to-table cuisine at Manuela at the Hauser Wirth gallery. I haven’t been to Manuela since Kris Tominaga took over as executive chef.

Boyle Heights is a quick drive and you can grab a Manuel’s special at El Tepeyac or a combination burrito at Al & Bea’s. I’m practically drooling thinking about the Al & Bea’s burrito, a molten cheese, bean, and shredded meat bit of perfection.

Broiled sanma and tofu is a lunch special at Suehiro on First Street.

This Thursday, Ichiro, Rona, and I tucked into a simply delicious bowl of katsudon at Kouraku on Second Street, and we have Australian Open champ Naomi Osaka to thank for it.

Osaka, after winning the Australian Open, was asked what food she wanted most and she smiled and said, “Katsudon.”

Kouraku made Osaka’s favorite their special of the month in honor of the 21-year-old tennis sensation. It reminds me of Matsui Restaurant’s Matsui Go Go bowl, a shrimp tempura bowl, named in honor of retired Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui.

Katsudon and miso soup is the monthly lunch special at Kouraku.

Katsudon is a bit of homey Japanese alchemy — thick slices of breaded, fried pork atop a mixture of sliced onions and soft eggs. At Kouraku, the katsudon had a hint of yuzu, and a small mound of pickled daikon radish. It was served steaming hot, which made it all the better on such a cold day. The katsudon and a bowl of miso soup cost us less than six bucks apiece.

The J-Town weekday lunch specials are something that we as budget-minded Rafu workers really appreciate. Kouraku’s special changes about once a month (last time it was ginger pork) and we’ll always go and see what’s cooking.

Suehiro on First Street does a daily A and B lunch special, with some favorites like curry, chicken karaage, and sanma. It’s also incredibly affordable at what the late food critic Jonathan Gold said was “about the cost of a Happy Meal.”

At around six bucks, the Suehiro special is actually a bit more than a Happy Meal, but I’d sure rather have that than chicken McNuggets.

On many days I am extraordinarily blessed because my husband Eric has prepared a dinner, which allows me to bring leftovers for lunch. This past week, he roasted a prime rib and even baked some Yorkshire puddings. It was enough that many in my family got to share in his culinary skills.

I can hear what folks are thinking and believe me, I know I’m lucky!

* * * * *

So far, it feels like 2019 has been a moment for independent, young women like Naomi Osaka.

The sign at Kouraku posts the monthly special and pays tribute to Naomi Osaka.

Her victory gives Japan a new heroine who is multi-racial, who is Haitian and Japanese — and I’d like to add Japanese American. Her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last year was unfortunately overshadowed by controversy over Serena Williams’ arguments with a chair umpire. It was heartbreaking to see her tears in what should have been her moment of celebration.

In Australia, Osaka truly had the spotlight and she has rightfully claimed the title of a world champion.

Another remarkable woman is UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi. With every leap and twist of her floor routine, Ohashi made what her coach called “ridiculously hard” look effortless and joyful.

More incredibly is that she has found inner peace and happiness after bleak moments of injury, pain and hardship when she thought she would give up the sport.

“It’s not the outcome. It’s not me standing on the podium with medals. It’s me being able to walk out with a smile on my face and truly being happy with myself,” she says.

Marie Kondo, who has been around for a few years now, is also having a moment here at the beginning of the year.

Since her Netflix show debuted, the cleaning guru has been everywhere. Most recently, she showed Stephen Colbert how to properly fold fitted sheets. It’s cool hearing Japanese spoken on network television, and seeing someone who looks a bit like me, being embraced by a larger mainstream audience.

In the midst of a cold, wet winter, the rise of a generation of strong young women gives me a warm feeling.

 

*This article was originally published in The Rafu Shimpo on February 11, 2019.

 

© 2019 Gwen Muranaka / The Rafu Shimpo

J-town japantown kouraku little tokyo naomi osaka suehiro