In the middle of Seoul Seoul, the South Korean capital, against the picturesque background of Mount Nam, is Sopa-ro, which is a hillside road lined with a variety of restaurants that all offer the same menu, including huge-sized Korean Tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu can be described as a portmanteau between ton, which means pork, and Katsu, which is the simplified Japanese spelling of the word cutlet.

The Tonkatsu offered in these restaurants in Namsan, which is Namsan, the Korean word for Mount Nam, is identical to the traditional version that is served in other snack shops all over Korea.

Namsan, located in Seoul, is the home of numerous tonkatsu restaurants in addition to Seoul’s well-known N Seoul Tower. Photo: Korea Tourism Organization

This is flattened to cover the length of the dish, and then it is fried, breaded, and deep-fried until crispy golden brown and served with a sweet brown sauce. White rice, plain soup cab,bage salad, and kimchi are served with every pork tonkatsu.

The restaurants are all branded as Tonkatsu establishments on the signs; however, they also sell other Korean meals, including stew and soup.

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There are huge lines of tourists from outside and within the city, looking for crispy pork, similar to what they saw in the 90s when the food originated from Japan. Japanese origin became a local specialty to be found in Seoul.

The dish was introduced to Korea via the Japanese influence of the colonial period during the 30s and 40s, just a few years before it was introduced in Japan. Western cuisine was brought to the market in Japan towards the end of the 19th century.

It was not until the early 1960s that Western cuisine was popularized in Korea. However, it took a while for the Tonkatsu to gain popularity among the Korean people, as per food journalist Park Chung-bae.

Food columnist Park Chung-bae. 

“At the time, when most Koreans had a hard time making a living, fried pork was not a popular dish for the public,” Park says. Park. “Western cuisine was a luxury in dining out, a fancy dating course for a young couple.”

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However, the pattern changed when the ingredients used in this fried meat became readily available in the rapidly growing nation, Park says.

The industry of pork grew quickly during the 1950s due to the rising demand for imported pork from Japan in the 1950s as a massive campaign to eat more food made of flour to combat a shortage of rice in the 1960s led to wheat flour becoming more accessible in the marketplace.

I make Tonkatsu all day long, both at night and day. I continue doing my job.

Park Je-min, the proprietor of Namsan’s very first tonkatsu restaurant.


Additionally, the production of cooking oils began in the 1970s following the development of a food processor, Dong-bang You-Ryang, now known as Sajo the maker, he says.

Tonkatsu‘s real breakthrough on Mount Nam came thanks to taxi drivers. The first establishments to serve the Tonkatsu in the region were restaurants that served taxi drivers. They were situated near taxi garages along the mountainside.

Park Je-min, aged 62, runs one of the very first eateries that served Tonkatsu in Namsan. He claims he first served a soft tofu stew to taxi drivers around 30 years ago.

Images from 1992 show Park Je-min’s former restaurants, which began serving Tonkatsu to taxi drivers. Photo: Naver

“At that time Tonkatsu is not an extremely dish that was popular and I was looking to try something different and thought of serving it in this. I went to an Tonkatsu restaurant in Seongbuk-dong, to taste it for myself and brought it in Namsan in 1992.” He refers to the area in north Seoul close to Mount Bugak, another area known for its Tonkatsu.

It was an instant success.

Park’s restaurant soon saw queues of taxis lined up on the street as drivers came to enjoy the extravagant Western dish for a low cost, and nearby restaurants also began doing the same.

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According to taxi driver Yu Gil-jun, his very first Tonkatsu “tasted like heaven.”

“It was a culture shock,” Yu recalls. “These times, Tonkatsu is available everywhere and the one served in Namsan might not be so distinctive. At times, this dish seemed unusual. We would visit the restaurant numerous times, wait in line and eat a big meal.”

The dish has recently returned to the radar of foodies when it was featured in the Disney+ Korean original series Moving with the Wind, particularly for younger people who are not familiar with the history behind Namsan Tonkatsu.

A dinner date in a restaurant serving Tonkatsu Namsan in the Disney+ series “Moving.” Photo: Disney+

In the 20-part action-hero saga, the characters’ parents, as played by Zo In-sung and Han Hyo-Joo, serve as secret agents with supernatural powers that meet up in Namsan, the National Security Agency headquarters, which was at the time in Namsan.

Undercover under cover, they meet and fall in love with each other during a meal at the Tonkatsu eatery located in Namsan, and the dinner turns into a symbol of their affection.

For visitors and newcomers alike, the hillside eateries remain open and provide Tonkatsu.

The view at night of Seoul from Namsan. 

One of the most treasured experiences from serving the Tonkatsu in Namsan for more than 30 years is watching the big smiles of our customers, Park says.

“So I make Tonkatsu all day long both at night and day. I’m just doing what I do,” he says, trimming the cabbage to be served along with the dish.