Photo by grape Japan

We tried one of Japan’s most famous pork katsu sandwiches

If you love pork katsu, known in Japanese as tonkatsu (豚カツ or とんかつ), then you probably know that you can enjoy these breaded and fried cutlets of pork tenderloin without rice, in which case they're often cut into thick slices and served with shredded cabbage, or on a bowl of rice, which is called katsudon (カツ丼 or かつ丼).

However, there's one more popular method to get your katsu fix, and that's having your katsu sandwiched between two slices of lightly sweet and fluffy shokupan bread, known in Japanese as かつサンド katsu sando or ヒレかつサンド hire katsu sando, to specifically indicate that it's made with pork tenderloin.

Some of our readers may recall we recently reviewed an outlier in the world of pork katsu sandwiches, the pork katsu curry sandwich sold at the Miyako pork katsu restaurant in Tokyo. However, we'd be sorely remiss not to also mention some of the best offerings in pork katsu sans curry, and that's where the hire katsu sando from Maisen comes in.

Maisen's pork katsu sandwiches

Ever since they opened in 1965, the まい泉 Maisen restaurant has specialized in serving up terrific tonkatsu to delighted diners. Their claim to fame is that their pork katsu, which comes in hire (lean) or rōsu (fatty pork), is "so tender that you can cut them with your chopsticks."

Their business thrived, and now they have several restaurants not only in Japan but also abroad. Their main restaurant, which opened in 1987, is in a converted bathhouse off a side street near the affluent shopping avenue of Omotesando in Tokyo.

It wasn't long before their sandwiches became popular with both regular shoppers and within the entertainment industry. Just like Amanoya's egg sandwiches which we recently reviewed, Maisen's hire katsu sando are known as a favorite backstage snack.

According to their website, the sandwiches were already favored by actresses of the Takarazuka all-female musical revue when their first store opened in the Hibiya neighborhood of Tokyo which happened to be located very near their theater. An actress asked Maisen to have the sandwiches delivered but with the additional request that they be presented in a way that's easy to eat quickly during intermission. They delivered the sandwiches cut into in three pieces, much to the delight of the actress. This format allowed the sandwiches to be eaten with no mess and the small pieces were appreciated since they could be shared and accommodate smaller appetites. Through word of mouth, Maisen sandwiches became a favorite not only among Takarazuka actresses but also Japanese show business at large. Of course, they're also appreciated by the general public.

Maisen sells bento lunches and sandwiches at retail locations all over Japan. They have also teamed up with services such as Uber Eats so you can have them delivered in many major metropolitan areas of Japan. There's even a catering service for events and parties.

In addition to their famous hire katsu sando, Maisen sandwiches come in other varieties such as fried shrimp and menchi-katsu (minced beef) with Camembert cheese, but we picked up a box of their hire katsu sando at one of their retail locations conveniently located in the train station building on our way home from work. They come in 3 slices (one sandwich), as well as 6, 9 and 18, but we settled on 6 slices.


When you buy them from a retail shop, they come in plastic bags with the company's name and distinctive intertwined infinity mark logo.

The box, with its elegant and modern design, also features the company's name and logo with their characteristic yellow and brown color scheme symbolizing the colors of the golden breading and their original tonkatsu sauce.

Photo by grape Japan

When you open the box, you'll find each sandwich, cut into 3 pieces, wrapped for freshness, along with a moist towelette.

Photo by grape Japan

We were getting quite hungry just looking at them, so we proceeded to remove the sandwiches from their carefully packed box and placed them on a plate to get a better look.

Photo by grape Japan

The thick cuts of tenderloin pork looked very appealing, as did the golden breading and the fluffy bread, which is Maisen's own specially formulated original loaf.

Photo by grape Japan

Maisen takes extra care to tenderize and prepare their cuts of pork so that the tenderloin pork in each sandwich is in its best condition, enjoyable even when served cold.

When we picked up a slice and observed it more closely, we could also see their famous original sauce along the outlines of the breading and seeping into the bread, further whetting our appetite.

Photo by grape Japan

So how did they taste?

Since the last pork katsu sandwiches we tried were still warm, we were at first skeptical about how tasty a cold pork katsu sandwich would be. When we took a bite, however, we were happily surprised to discover that the temperature didn't hamper our enjoyment in the least!

These were really good sandwiches! The bread was thick and fluffy, the golden breading was still crispy, the pork tenderloin wasn't at all dry, but moist and flavorful and their sauce, specially developed for these pork katsu sandwiches, truly brought all the flavors together with a delicious blend of mildly fruity tanginess and umami.

We highly recommend Maisen's hire katsu sando the next time you visit Japan! They also have vegetarian selections such as edamame croquettes, corn cream croquettes (currently in season), soy meat katsu mini burgers, and sweet sandwiches containing sweet bean paste.


By - grape Japan editorial staff.