Kushikatsu: Hearty morsels sinfully battered, deep-fried and served piping hot on bamboo skewers. (99¢–$2.99 each) (dish in the featured picture)
Newcomer Kushimaru’s entertaining take on traditional Osakan bar food.
Japan is known for amusing and offbeat restaurants—from prison restaurants to video-game-themed bars. In the 1920s, a new concept swept Osaka: kushikatsu, pork skewered, battered with a panko crust and deep-fried. Once reserved for labourers looking for an economical and hearty meal, kushikatsu has broadened its horizons by incorporating new flavours and now sits firmly at the intersection of inexpensive and whimsy.
After spending several years working and travelling in Japan, Kushimaru’s Raymond and his wife Megumi returned to Toronto with a plan to open a Japanese restaurant. A well-travelled foodie with a vision, Raymond wanted to bring some of Japan’s more obscure cuisine to the Canadian masses. For a city saturated with ramen, sushi, izakayaand teriyaki restaurants, Toronto is surprisingly devoid of shops serving skewered snacks. And that’s how Kushimaru, which celebrated its grand opening in August 2018, came to call Toronto’s Little Tokyo district home.
Diners in this corner restaurant are welcomed with original artwork crafted by a local artist in manga style. The extensive menu offers 30+ options served on bamboo skewers, from cauliflower and eggplant, to chikuwa (fish paste) with cheese, squid, beef and even unagi (eel)—with nothing costing more than $3. Kushimaru has recently expanded its side dish spread to include staples like gyoza, chickenkaraage, salads, tasty rice bowls and noodle dishes priced reasonably from $4.50 to $13. Though the restaurant was only a week old when I dropped by, its diners have already pronounced their favourites: avocado, cauliflower, quail egg, beef, asparagus, cheese and Oreo cookies, each item deep-fried and served on a skewer. Poached saba (mackerel), chicken wing karaage and beef stew with miso also find themselves filling the bellies of hungry feasters.
Kushimaru has taken the typical kushikatsu recipe and given it a new spin. An array of ingredients are dipped in a lightly tart yogurt-based batter that perfectly balances the deep-fried indulgences. Each dish is served with a variety of toppings—the most popular being the house-made Osaka tonkatsuand garlic ponzu sauces, and the green tea salt. Kushimaru’s drink menu complements the dishes, however the Japanese hi-ball stands out—a traditional Japanese cocktail made with whisky and sparkling water.
In true whimsical Japanese restaurant fashion, Kushimaru serves not only meals on sticks, but games and desserts, too. Competitive diners devouring deep-fried cheese stretch their stringy melting morsels across the table for the privilege of calling themselves a cheese-pulling champion. Oreos, bananas and sesame-filled mochi, battered, fried and served warm with gooey centres, further amplify the restaurant’s whimsical take on kushikatsu cuisine.
After a long day at work, sometimes it’s nice to go to a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Kushimaru is a place so effervescent that even the food is entertaining. A welcoming spot to forget about your day and play with your food.
64 Edward St., Toronto
Facebook / Instagram @KushimaruToronto
OPEN: Sun–Thurs 11:30 am–3 pm,
5 pm–11 pm • Fri–Sat 11:30 am–12 am