Whenever Japanese people think of summertime, the next thing that always pops into their minds is the thought of eating something hot and spicy. It is believed that spices help you cool down your body by making you perspire and fuel your appetite as well. And what better ways to cool down on a sunny day other than eating one of Japan’s quintessential summer dishes, the curry. Because of its growing popularity, one can say that it’s almost ahead of another favorite, which is sushi and can be regarded as the second national dish alongside the famous bowl of ramen. From children to adults, people enjoy this simple dish at home or when they dine out. While it’s different from the usual Indian curry that most people know, Japanese curry is probably one of those dishes that families eat at least once or twice a week. But what is different about Japanese curry and why are so many people crazy about it?
First introduced by the Royal Navy during the 19th century, the curry was first classified as yoshoku (Western food), a distinct style of cooking where Western-style dishes are reinvented to suit the Japanese palette. One of the earliest curry recipes first appeared in 1872, its ingredients include vegetable and meat with its broth thickened with a roux (a sauce thickener used in French cuisine). It was considered unique and exotic during its early appearances in restaurants in 1877 and because it used imported curry powder from Britain with professional chefs concocting and preparing the sauce, the curry was a first-class dish with its expensive price that only rich people can afford. However, the great scandal of 1931 happened when dealers were caught selling cheap curry powder at the same price as British imported curry powder but because people couldn’t really tell the difference, they continued using it and even boosted domestic curry powder manufacturers. Because of this, more and more cheap food stalls and restaurants had accessed with the curry powder and made their own versions of the typical curry recipe. After being introduced to the public and gaining quite a following, the curry we now know today is in solid-block type form which already includes the roux thickener and flavor enhancers such as meat and vegetable concentrate. It’s been a staple of Japanese household ever since. Because of the modernity and how fast-paced life is nowadays, the instant curry was invented in 1969, sealed in bags and just heated in hot water.
Types of Japanese Curry Dishes
Because of its versatility, people find out that you can invent other variations other than the usual rice and curry dish served at home and in restaurants. Whether you like it on top of steaming rice, a filling in your bread, or in your hearty udon bowl, curry is the kind of dish that’s here to stay.
Kare raisu (curry rice) is probably the most popular among the variations. You can almost say how balanced the meal is, with its yin-yang placement where the rice and curry are placed in half. The dish basically consists of your choice of meat (pork, beef, and chicken) and vegetables, which is typically onions, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes. If you feel adventurous, you can always use shrimps and other seafood ingredients. Sometimes breaded pork cutlet is added on top and is called katsu-curry. When ordering in restaurants, you can always ask if they can adjust the spiciness of your curry because a typical curry is really spicy.
If you fancy something hearty and filling, you should try curry udon. Curry Udon is basically your favorite udon meal with its soup made in curry broth. Now, whether you want to go traditional or bold, you can always go freestyle and choose your own ingredients for your curry udon. You can use from your favorite sliced meat, in which we recommend beef, and then your choice of vegetables which can range onions, potatoes, and Chinese cabbage. Curry udon is best made with the freshest ingredients but if you have some leftover curry sauce, that will work just as fine.
Another favorite among the bunch is the kare pan (curry bread). Typically found in convenience stores and bakeries, this delicious and filling bread is made by wrapping the curry in the dough and coating it with breadcrumbs. You can either bake or deep-fry it but we highly recommend the deep-fried one! Be careful though because the filling can be piping hot and spicy. You can also use freshly made curry or leftovers for this recipe.
Best Places to Find Japanese Curry in Tokyo
A long-time favorite, curry is a dish that calls for few ingredients and can be easily whipped up from home. After all, nothing beats freshly cooked meals. But if you don’t have time to cook and is craving for something spicy and satisfying, you can always dine out and visit restaurants who specializes in curry dishes.
- Yoshida Curry (3-8-2 Amanuma, Suginami, Tokyo) is a small restaurant which only has 7 seats at a time but that doesn’t stop the people from lining up and getting their curry craving satisfied. They offer a lot of varieties with their curry from flavor (sweet, spicy, or combination) up to their toppings. You can choose from fried cheese (a crowd favorite), keema curry, fried onion, egg, or natto. Their curry can be quite addictive and we’re pretty sure you’re going to finish and maybe order another one.
- Now, if you like something traditional and extra crispy, try the katsu-curry in Kitchen Nankai (1-5 Jinbocho Kanda, Chiyoda). They serve one of the best katsu-curry in the city which has just the right spiciness to it. But if you’re not keen on katsu-curry, you can always order curry rice which also hits the right spot.
- Bondy (Kanda Old Books Centre 2F, 2-3 Kanda-Jinbocho, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo) is another favorite curry restaurant which can be a bit hard to find having the entrance located at the second floor of a secondhand bookshop. Once you’re already there, you’ll be surprised at how a lot of people are lining up for this. Unfortunately, they don’t accept early reservations. Though their curry dish can be a bit expensive, it’s definitely worth it. It’s delectable, hearty, and definitely has a generous serving.
- If you’re craving for some udon noodles and curry at the same time, why not go and order curry udon in Udon Maruka (1F New Sugugadai Building, 3-16-1 Kanda-Ogawamachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo). This well-known curry restaurant is loved by its patrons and people line up every time. Their curry udon is to die for and it’s highly recommended to add a poached egg on top or may some crispy tempura on the side.
- Manten (1-54 Kanda Jinbocho Chiyoda Tokyo) is everyone’s go-to curry restaurant because of how delicious and affordable their curry is. What’s more is that it comes with free coffee. It may sound a bit strange, the combination, but for some people who have been going here for quite some time now say that it actually works! They serve curry rice and you’ll be surprised about how generous their servings are. This restaurant has been around for quite some time now and still serve the best curry out there.
She’s cooking and baking for her family and friends. She finds grocery shopping therapeutic, always takes the longest time in the Asian section and debates with herself whether she needs that extra pack of instant ramen. A lover of sweets, she dreams of owning a patisserie and publishing her book but most of the time, she’s just really thinking of what to eat for breakfast the next day.