Curry is so ubiquitous in Japan, you could practically call it a Japanese dish. It features a distinctive thick consistency thanks to the addition of a flour-based roux. Rather than jasmine or basmati rice, it is typically served over Japonica short-grain sticky rice. How did Japanese curry come to be?
What’s in a Japanese curry?
Although curry powder was introduced to Japan during the Edo period (1603 to 1868), it did not become a popular commercial item until the Meiji period (1868-1912), with the British brand "Crosse and Blackwell Currie Powder" after Japan had ended its isolationist foreign policy of Sakoku. It wasn’t long until curry became a popular everyday yōshoku dish, or Western-style cuisine, in Japan.
Compared to Indian or Thai curry, Japanese curry tends to be dark in color and sweet in flavor, with a flour-based roux and ingredients like onions, carrots, potatoes, and chicken or beef. To make it a little fancier, you can also add Japanese ingredients like beni shoga (red pickled ginger) and nori furikake (seaweed rice seasoning).
Melt-in-your-mouth Japanese curry is often garnished with beni shoga and Japonica rice sprinkled with nori furikake. Image via Adobe
How to Enjoy Japanese Curry
Curry Rice: This is the most common way to enjoy Japanese curry. You can make your own curry roux using flour, butter, and spices, or buy a premade variety. Just add water! Many home chefs add a piece or two of dark chocolate to add complexity of flavor.
Curry Udon: This dish features a more soup-like consistency and is commonly found in modern-style udon restaurants. Topped with sliced beef and green onions, it is the perfect fusion of noodles and curry.
Katsu Curry: For those looking for a more substantial meal, this dish involves curry over rice topped with a deep-fried pork loin cutlet (tonkatsu). Some restaurants also serve chicken katsu or shrimp katsu.
Katsu Curry, or tonkotsu on top of curry over rice, is a popular way to enjoy curry in Japan. Image via Adobe. Image via Adobe
Curry Pan: Fried dough with a crunchy exterior stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth curry that can be found at Japanese-style bakeries.
Dry Curry: Dry curry has all of the liquid nearly evaporated for a drier consistency. It can be enjoyed in sandwiches and onigiri (Japanese rice balls).
Cheese Curry: This decadent dish involves cheese mixed into or topped onto curry for a richer and more complex flavor.
Keema Curry: Keema curry originated in India and is comprised of ground meat, onions, tomatoes, and spices. This is also a popular dish in Japan with beef or chicken.
Hokkaido Soup Curry: Hokkaido Soup Curry hails from Japan’s northernmost prefecture and is based on Indian and Nepalese cuisine. As the name would suggest, it features a soup base with a spicier, richer broth full of herbs. It contains more varied ingredients compared to standard curry rice, such as mushrooms, chicken thigh dumplings, kabocha squash, baby corn, taro, eggplant, chicken legs, okra, and lotus root. Many soup curry restaurants serve this dish alongside South and Southeast Asian menu items, like naan, saffron rice, and guava juice. Find this popular dish in snowy Sapporo, at the popular nationwide chain Soup Curry Shanti, or a local shop.
This spicy Hokkaido soup curry is brimming with colorful ingredients.
Image via Adobe
You will also find a variety of Nepalese restaurants in Japan, in part due to the 156,000 Nepalese living in Japan. Compared to Indian curry, Nepalese curry tends to be milder in spice level and is influenced by East Asian flavors, with rice being a more popular side dish over naan or roti, making it well-suited to Japanese cuisine.
Where to Find Japanese Curry
S&B Foods is a company known for their popular instant curry roux, including Golden Curry and Tasty Curry Mix. They first released the S&B Curry in 1954, and introduced new products over the years, including Japanese Curry for Soba and Udon Noodles in 1980, curry risotto mix in 2012, and this year, the Spice Premium Western-Style Curry Roux with double the spices of the original and zero flour – Dare we say Japan is developing a greater spice tolerance?
A hearty bowl of udon with a rich curry-based broth. Image via Adobe
Instant ramen pioneer Nissin is no stranger to curry and offers its popular Curry Meshi (Curry Rice) series in as many as ten flavors. Nissin Curry Cup Noodle is a classic, and it has since delved into more adventurous territory with Western-style Cheese Curry and Pork Rib Curry Cup Noodle.
Even easier to prepare than instant roux – Nissin’s Curry Cup Noodle!
Image via Adobe
CoCo Ichibanya, originally from Aichi, is one of the most popular curry chains in Japan, where you can enjoy a variety of Japanese curry dishes and up to 10 spice levels (at your own risk). Seafood curry, katsu curry, cheese curry, and omelet curry can all be enjoyed at this beloved restaurant. Osaka branches serve up raw eggs and beef tendon curry to suit the Western Japanese palate. In Tokyo, there are even two branches of CoCo Ichibanya that offer certified Halal curry – Shinjuku Kabukicho and Akihabara.
This popular curry chain gives diners a chance to try Japanese-style curry with a variety of spice levels and toppings to choose from. Image via Adobe
What’s your favorite way to enjoy Japanese curry? Let us know in the comments!