Kushimaru is Toronto’s first spot specializing in Osaka-style deep-fried Japanese skewers, known as kushikatsu or kushiage. From okra and cauliflower to cheese, pork and Oreos, you can get pretty much anything you can imagine deep-fried and on a stick here.
“Kushi” translates to “skewer” and “maru” means “round,” but Kushimaru intends to be its own entity. Upon opening there are about 20 kinds of skewers on the menu, but they’re hoping for up to 30 or 40.
The design incorporates elements of manga, a stylized mural depicting samurai and Godzilla figures. Benches and metal bucket stools provide seating, skewer frying taking place in a nearby small open kitchen.
All skewers are battered in a mixture of yogurt, milk and egg, then coated in panko powder and deep fried.
Green tea salt and a house tonkatsu sauce are provided for seasoning. You’re free to dip in one or the other or mix and match to personal taste. I didn’t get a huge amount of green tea flavour from the salt, but the thick tonkatsu sauce has a smoky BBQ feel.
Double-dipping is frowned upon, so cabbage is provided that can act as a salad but also a personal dipping tray. A lighter ponzu sauce is available if the tonkatsu is too overpowering for you.
Deep-fried cheese ($2) on a stick is something not many can argue with. Stretchy, hot, and fatty, all skewers should be eaten punctually so they don’t cool down too much, but this one especially.
Okra ($2) is another standout, still crisp, fresh and snappy in its fried coating.
Quail egg ($2) basically comes off as deep-fried hard boiled egg which is a little weird, but maybe Scotch egg fans will come running.
A seafood kushi curry lunch combo goes for $13.99 with salad, miso soup, white rice, warmly spiced homemade Japanese curry, veggies and salmon, shrimp and two white fish skewers.
Beef stew with miso ($9.99) is another way Kushimaru literally beefs up their menu in case snacks on a stick don’t fill you up, though I found the fried food relatively substantial.
Octopus kimchi ($8) is a side or appetizer that rounds a meal out. Chunks of octopus could be a bit more tender, but this provides a refreshing counterpoint to the greasy skewers.
Request Oreos as a finisher: like cheese, deep-frying cookies and candy tends never to fail, and that’s the case with this sweet, crunchy, fatty and warm dessert on a stick.
As mentioned, food from here should probably be enjoyed hot, but Kushimaru does offer takeout as an option.
Overall kushikatsu are indulgent and oily, but cheap and novel, yet another diverse Asian food item found in this neighbourhood.