As curry in Japan is popular to the point of being considered a national dish, many would be baffled to find out that it was introduced in Japan no longer than 200 years ago. Curry was brought to Japan by the officers of the Royal Navy at the end of the 19th century: the first recipes of raisu karī (literally rice curry) appear in Japanese cookbooks in 1872. Five years later, curry makes its appearance in restaurants’ menus. At the beginning it was very expensive, a luxury that only rich families could afford: curry powder was imported from Britain. It was only after the great curry powder scandal of 1931, when cheap curry was sold in place of the more expensive British variety, that people realized that they couldn’t really tell the difference between curry types, and this gave a boost to the domestic manufacturers. The Japanese curry in bars we know today made its appearance in 1954. It contains spices and concentrate mean and vegetables to enhance the flavour. In 1969 a new type of curry was introduced, the ready-to-eat curry, especially convenient as it is stored in bags that can be quickly heated in hot water. Today curry is a very popular dish in Japan, and it can be found in many different recipes. Let’s check some of them.
Curry based Japanese dishes: karē raisu
The most common recipe is probably karē raisu, in which boiled rice is placed in half of a bowl, and the thick curry sauce in the other half.
The main ingredients are meat (pork, beef or chicken) and a great variety of vegetables, including onions, carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms. There are also karē raisu that use shrimps, and sometimes breaded deep-fried pork cutlet is put on top of the bowl (Katsu-karē). Be careful when ordering curry, because it can be spicy! If you don’t like spicy food, you’d better make sure to order mild curry to avoid surprises.
In the late 1990s, a great variety of regional curry recipes emerged: there is Nashi pear curry from Shimane prefecture, bitter melon curry from Okinawa, scallop curry from Aomori prefecture and so on. Some of those dishes are very peculiar, like whale curry from Wakayama prefecture or Nattō curry from Mito. Nattō ( 納豆) is a food made of fermented soybeans, and since it has a strong smell and flavour, and slimy texture, it’s not widely appreciated.
Local curries are also marketed as a boost for tourism. Special kinds of curry include Yokusuka navy curry (よこすか海軍カレー), which is made in Yokusuka to celebrate the city’s naval heritage, and Zeppelin Curry (ツェッペリンカレー), made in Tsuchiura to promote the Zeppelin landing in 1929.
Curry based Japanese dishes: karē udon
Karē raisu is not the only Japanese curry based recipe. Another popular curry-based dish is karē udon, a soup made with udon noodles in curry broth.
The choice of ingredients is extremely free, it can go from sliced meat to onions, potatoes, and Chinese cabbage. Curry udon can be made with fresh ingredients, or it can be used to reuse leftover curry sauce.
Curry based Japanese dishes: karē-pan
The last curry recipe we’re going to check is karē-pan, or curry bread.
It is prepared by wrapping some curry in dough, and then coating the dough in bread crumbs. At this point the dough can be baked or deep fried, although deep frying is the most common way to cook curry bread. Karē-pan can be found in bakeries or convenience stores, so it’s very easy to find!
A karē raisu recipe
Curious to try curry home? Let’s check an easy recipe!
Ingredients for 6 portions:
- 100g of curry roux
- 500g of veal stew
- 1 onion
- 1 leek
- 5-6 potatoes
- 3 carrots
- 1lt water
- 2 spoons of cooking oil
- Chop the onion, slice the leek, cut the meat in little cubes and cut the other vegetables in big pieces.
- Heat the oil in a big, high-sided pot. Add onion and leek and stir them for some minutes.
- Add the meat, stir until it changes color, then add the rest of the vegetables.
- Add the water and bring it to the boil. Leave it to cook for 15-20 minutes on medium heat.
- Once the meat and vegetables are ready, turn off the heat and add the curry roux.
- Turn the heat to low and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes until the broth thickens.
- Serve in a bowl with gohan, or white rice.