The Origin of Japanese Curry
There are many things that Japan has created for the world but it is worth talking about something that did not come from Japan but has found its way into the hearts of its people so deeply that it is now a considered a staple of the Japanese home. This is the Japanese Curry and it has quite an interesting history because it wasn’t really for everyone to eat in Japan initially. When the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to adopt curry from the British to avoid sicknesses like beriberi (which is a nutrient deficiency illness), it was really just meant to be a ration of some sort for the soldiers. It turns out, it wasn’t just a great food of war but also just simply great food. The soldiers liked it so much that they brought it into their homes and then their families loved it too that they eventually started making their own type of curry which we now refer to as Japanese Curry.
The Ingredients and Recipe of Japanese Curry
Home cooked meals are tricky in a sense that not all things in the recipe is followed. If you search for recipes online, you will notice that most recipes change or add something to give the dish a bit more uniqueness. for example, Nami’s recipe would be different if another Japanese household. Now, recognizing that there may be changes to what households use for their Japanese Curry, it should still basically have:
- Chicken/Beef (550 grams)
- Salt (1 tsp.)
- Black Pepper (1/4 tsp.)
- Oil (1 tbsp.)
- Grated Garlic (14 grams)
- Grated Ginger (14 grams)
- Thinly Sliced Onions (500 grams)
- Japanese Brand Curry Powder (2 ½ tbsp.)
- Chicken Stock (3 cups)
- Chunks of Carrots (300 grams)
- Chunou Sauce (2 tbsp.)
- Tomato Paste (1 tbsp.)
- Cocoa Powder (1 tsp.)
- Potatoes (350 grams)
- Bay Leaf (1)
- Green Peas (1/2 cup)
- Butter (1 tbsp.)
- Flour (1 tbsp.)
These ingredients are actually what compose the other curries too with the exception of one thing and that is the onions. The onions are the defining ingredient because only Japanese Curry has caramelized onions in it and this is believed to be what gives the dish its unique taste of sweetness without using sugar.
Putting it All Together: How to Make the Japanese Curry
This dish isn’t the kind of dish that would take a long time to prepare The first thing to do in cooking Japanese curry is to clean the chicken or beef. This also means to remove the bits of fat that can be removed by slicing it off. Cut the meat of your choice into large chunks and then sprinkle it with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and then mix it up to make sure that the flavoring is practically in every chunk.
Next thing to do is to heat up some vegetable oil in a deep or heavy-bottomed pot over a medium high heat. Wait until it simmers and then add the meat in a single layer, meaning all chunks are touching the bottom of the pot. Let it cook for 5 minutes and then mix up the meat to cook the other sides for another 5 minutes. After this, set the heat to a medium-low level and transfer the chicken to a bowl. Make sure to leave as much of the oil the meat was cooked in inside the pot because it will be used for the next step.
Add the grated garlic and ginger into the said oil in the pot and let it fry until it was reached a caramel brown color. Add the onions and stir to get the caramel brown mixture on the onions. After mixing, cover the pot with a lid and steam the onions for a good 10 to 15 minutes then remove the lid, turn up the heat back to medium and continue to fry it. Make sure to constantly stir it too until it is 1/8 of its original volume and is paste-like in appearance. When the onions are fully caramelized, the curry powder and sauté is added until the smell fills up the room.
Put back the meat into the pot and then add the stock, carrots, chunou sauce, tomato sauce, cocoa powder, salt, and bay leaf into the pot too. You can also add slices of apples if you like. Bring to a boil at a high heat setting and then reduce the heat. This is it and let it simmer for another 15 minutes. After this time, add the potatoes and then cover it again to let it simmer until both carrot and potatoes are tender. This usually takes another 15 to 20 minutes. When the onions are nearing full caramelization, it tends to stick to the pan so you may use some water and scrub off the parts that stick with a spatula.
While waiting for all the simmering in the other pot to end, the cook should get started on making the roux. The roux is like an admixture to make the sauce thicker and it is an important part of the curry. It is made by adding butter and flour into a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir this constantly until it starts to bubble and turns into a light brown color.
Once all the simmering is done and the roux is ready, mix the roux in with the green peas into the pot and bring it to a boil once again to thicken the sauce. Give it a quick taste to check if you’d want more salt or curry powder for more spice. Once thick enough, you’re Japanese Curry is ready to be put on top of either rice, udon/noodles, or even inside the bread.
The Different Recipes of Curry: Curry Rice, Curry Udon, and Curry Bread
The Japanese Curry is served in three main ways and that is the Curry Rice, Curry Udon, and Curry Bread. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t take much work to make each of these types because they all come from the same recipe of the curry. Once the curry is made, you can turn it into any of these three things easily.
The simplest of all the curries is the curry rice. This is so because nothing is really done to the rice once it is cooked. Just make sure you’re using Japanese rice to get that chewy texture of rice. Once the curry is ready and the rice is cooked, all that needs to be done is to put it together and you would already have your curry rice.
If you would want udon or noodles with your curry, you would need to make some modifications with the curry to make the curry soup. Again, the curry is made the same way. Once the curry is done, put it in a medium saucepan and mix with the broth (preferably fish broth) and bring this mixture to a boil. This is the time to add the udon or noodles and then let it simmer for 5-10 minutes. In another small dish, mix cornstarch with water and add this to the saucepan, then let it set for a minute or so. After that, you have your curry udon for eating. You may also add sliced green onions to add to the flavor of the soup if you would like.
The curry bread is usually the way to finish up the leftover curry in Japanese households because it is perfect for snacks so it isn’t so heavy to eat. What you would need for the curry bread are dough (ready-made or from scratch) and the curry itself. Once your curry and dough are ready, flatten the dough into a plastic wrap. Make the dough form like a mini pizza and then put the curry in the middle of the circular dough. The curry needs to be paste like so if it is a little runny, you may add potato flakes to thicken it up some more. Once the curry is in the center, make the dough into a ball with the curry wrapped up inside it. Close the dough and make sure none of the curries can get out and then put it all in the oven to bake. Before baking, put oil on the tray or paper that you will set these dough balls onto so that it doesn’t stick on the tray. Bake these curry balls in a preheated oven at 375 F for about 12-15 minutes. Once done, let them cool and you are all set to eat these filling treats or even put them in a box to give as a gift.
As you can see, Japanese Curry isn’t just a staple for a Japanese home. It is also a very flexible dish to fit almost any situation. For example, if you plan to feed guests, the best curry to prepare is the curry bread because it is both filling and easily shared compared to serving udon and rice curry. Rice curry can be served with a finer type of dining while the udon curry can easily be used if one is sick or feeling under the weather. After all, soup is recommended for that type of state of health for a person and the spice that curry soup provides the eater will definitely free up those clogged air pipes. It just goes to show that Japan really has a knack for leaving nothing to waste and maximizing all that can be maximized. If you have a lot of leftover curry and a person asks what you would do with it, you will now know what to reply for sure.
Japanese curry restaurants near me that should definitely be visited in Japan
As delicious as home cooked curry is, sometimes, it is nice to taste the Japanese Curry from the restaurants around Japan and have the opportunity to differentiate each. This is so simply because the people who prepare the curry in these establishments have been doing it for years and if authenticity is what you’re after from the curry, you’re safest bet would be trying one of these places, and surely, you will have a more enjoyable visit.
Starting with a restaurant referred to as the “Best Curry in Tokyo”, this place is called the Curry House CoCo Ichibanya and judging from all the reviews it got from former customers, this place should be at the top of your list. Eating here would cost around 800-1200 yen per head and it’s interesting because you have the option of choosing how spicy you would want your curry based on a scale that they will explain to you when you eat there. Aside from spice, you also get to choose how much rice they put with your curry so servings in this restaurants are not a problem. Another great thing about this place is that it isn’t just found in Shinjuku because they have other branches found in places like Iida in Nagano, Kyoto, Osaka, and many more. The quality from branch to branch is also the same because all the reviews about these restaurants are praises and recommendations.
If you’re looking for another place to try curry, look no further than the Go!Go! Curry Akihabara which is found in Chiyoda. Eating here would cost around 600 yen and reviews from previous customers say that with that 600 yen, you will surely be full. Almost all reviews of this place had rated this restaurant to have a 5/5 rating for the food so they must have their curry tasting spot on to consistently be commended for this. A thing to note about this place is that it sort of has a fast food theme going on. Ordering is done via vending machine and this makes the service a lot quicker. As said earlier, the food here is a lot cheaper compared to other curry restaurants but despite the great prices, the quality and taste of the food do now suffer here.
There are surely a lot of other Japanese Curry restaurants to be found in Japan but these two branches are considered to be the crème of the crop based on the taste, authenticity, and price. If you are going to pay a bit more for the curry you will eat in Japan, might as well make sure that it is an establishment that has been tried, tested, and reviewed by previous customers for future customers.