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(Japanese donburi)

It's stretching this a bit to include as a soup, but after reading the climactic scene about Katsudon in Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen, I just had to have it. She says: "This katsudon, encountered almost by accident, was made with unusual skill, I must say. Good quality meat, excellent broth, the eggs and onions handled beautifully, the rice with just the right degree of firmness to hold up the broth--it was flawless."

Thus began my search for katsudon on my last two days in Japan. I scoured Kamakura in between shrines--no luck. I beat the streets of Nobi. Iie. With only hours left before my departure, only the Highlands are left to me. Darkness is falling...a storm is whipping up...I need to get home to make dinner and am anxious to spend my last moments with new granddaughter Billie. One restaurant after another sends me away, and I am now on backstreets I haven't been before. I feel like I am a character in Kitchen. I walk past a corner shop that looks like a restaurant, though no plastic food is on display, hesitate, then go on, determined to give up this fruitless search. Halfway down the block, I stop. I am certain that I've given up at the wrong moment. Something draws me back. I push through the doors into an elegant establishment--all tatami mats, natural cedar woods and black lacquer. Only a few tables for two are scattered around the large open room, but sandals and sneakers are lined up outside a long series of doors on the far side of the room. I walk over to the counter in the back and am met by a man in a black kimono. "Katsudon o kudasai?" I say--"Could you give me katsudon?" He emphatically crosses his arms in front of him: "Iie, iie katsudon"--"No, no katsudon!" I pursue the conversation, making a dumbshow of wanting to find it somewhere in town. "Iie, iie katsudon," he says--holding his crossed arms forward at me. Okay, fine, I leave. When I get home, though, I recommend the place to my kids--"Well," I say, "it looks like a romantic place to eat, with most of the food being served in private dining rooms." My son looks at me in complete disbelief. "Mom," he says, "you're not ever going to find katsudon at a love hotel."

Thanks to Ray Preston of Charleston, South Carolina, for the lesson, which much improved this recipe. Serve piping hot as a meal to 4 people.

Prepare the rice an hour before the meal. First pour it into a big bowl of water and scrub the grains against each other to remove all starch. Strain the rice, then wash and rinse it well, until the water runs clear. Let drain in the strainer for as much as an hour. Bring the rice and 2 cups of water to a boil, give it a quick stir, then cover, reduce to the lowest possible simmer, and cook for 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let steam for another 15 minutes (no peeking!). Then open the pot, gently fluff the rice with a wooden spoon or paddle, and re-cover the pot, placing a cloth or paper towel between the pot and the lid to prevent condensation into the rice.

Bring the dashi, mirin, and soy sauce to a boil, add the sliced leek, and simmer til soft.

When you are ready to assemble the meal, deep fry the pork cutlets til golden and tender, drain on paper towels.

Half fill four large bowls with the hot rice. Slice each pork cutlet diagonally into 1/2-inch strips, and arrange each intact cutlet on the rice.

Whisk the eggs with chopsticks, then pour slowly into one spot over the onion into the dashi. When the egg is nearly set, stir once. Ladle a quarter of the egg mass on top of the first bowl, taking care you can still see the crisp cutlet beneath; then follow with the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th bowls. Distribute any remaining broth evenly among the bowls, but don't feel compelled to use it all. Serve immediately.