About 40 kilometers away from Kobe is a place called Kakogawa. It's not particularly famous. It doesn't get a lot of tourists. But it does have an interesting local dish, called katsumeshi. In its basic form, katsumeshi is beef katsu (beef in breadcrumbs) on top of a pile of rice (meshi), covered in a demi-glace sauce. There are no shortage of restaurants serving katsumeshi, and each one has its own recipe.
One of these restaurants is just two minutes' walk from Kakogawa Station, and katsumeshi is its specialty. Katsumeshi Iroha's is owned by Beef Iroha (168 can be read as i-ro-ha), which was founded in 1953 and sells meat from bacon to the thin beef used for shabu shabu (hotpot).
The owner of this business is a huge fan of cowboys. His caricature, wearing a cowboy hat, can be seen on a cardboard cut-out outside Katsumeshi Iroha's. Inside, there are more cowboy-themed decorations, and the radio is set to an American station. On the wall are photos are various celebrities who have visited the restaurant. In the one restroom, Western-style, are more photos and Hello Kitty toilet paper.
On the menu is something for everyone – as long as it's katsumeshi. You can buy a katsumeshi bar (katsu on a stick covered with sauce), the new katsumeshi gratin or a beef katsu sandwich. The regular katsumeshi meals have a children's option and a mega beef katsu which comes with 1 kg of rice. If you aren't that hungry, there are supersize options for 300, 400, 600 and 800 grams of rice.
Iroha's isn't a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, but if beef isn't for you, you could try pork, chicken, white fish, prawn or croquettes. Beef lovers can try black wagyu (beef from Japanese black cattle). The latter is the most expensive, at ¥1299, but prices start from ¥699. Toppings, the most popular being croquette, cheese and fried egg, cost around ¥200. Then there is the set menu, where you can add a drink/soup/salad/ice-cream; one is ¥165 more, 2 is ¥330 and 3 is ¥380.
As if this wasn't enough choice, Iroha's has some different types of sauce – white, red and green. White is a normal white sauce with potato and white wine; red is the demiglace sauce which contains herbs and red wine; and green is made from spinach and basil and can be ordered spicy. You are free to choose one, or make your meal a double or triple sauce experience!
It was a difficult choice, but I eventually ordered a chicken katsumeshi triple, with a croquette topping, a side Caesar salad and apple juice. It was nearly more than I could manage, but it was delicious! The slightly spiciness of the green sauce was balanced by the creamy white sauce, and the demiglace sauce was rich and flavorful. The salad was fresh with a proper Caesar dressing and the apple juice was the best I've had in Japan so far. I tried some of my friend's ice-cream as well – it had a full vanilla flavor and was so creamy.
For a deceptively simple dish, katsumeshi is a delicious culinary experience. Iroha's serves great quality and variety - I only wish I could've tried more of the menu!