Food

Curry, a Beloved Dish in Japan: Its Unique Evolution and Diverse Variations

July 07, 2024

The Charms of Japanese Curry

Japanese curry has its own unique style, setting it apart from Indian and Thai curries. 

Characteristically, the curry base is rich and thick, with an excellent balance of sweetness and spice.

In Japan, the dish is commonly known as "curry rice (curry and rice)," where the curry base is poured over rice. 

Many Japanese love this style because the flavor of curry blends perfectly with rice, a staple food of the country. 

Japanese curry is generally perceived as a home-style dish and is enjoyed by people of all ages, from children to adults.

 

History of Curry in Japan

The history of Japanese curry dates back to the Meiji era (1868–1912). 

It was first introduced to the country through the British Navy. 

Curry in England during this period was influenced by India, where it originated, and this style of curry was brought to Japan.

 

Japanese curry has since evolved in its own way to suit the Japanese palate.

In the early Showa era (1926–1989), curry powder became commercially available, making it easier for general households to prepare curry at home. 

After the war, instant curry roux was introduced, and curry became an even more integral part of the Japanese diet.

 

Recent Trends

In recent years, curry has become increasingly diversified in Japan. 

Not only traditional "curry rice" but also different styles of curry, such as Indian curry, soup curry, and European curry, are gaining popularity.

 

Local curries with regional characteristics have also emerged, delighting curry lovers. 

Furthermore, the increase in curry specialty restaurants has made it easier to enjoy authentic curry using specialized spices and ingredients.

This spread of diverse curry culture has attracted people from Japan and abroad.

 

How to cook

Japanese curry rice is a little different from typical Indian or Thai curry. 

The following ingredients are often used in Japanese curry:

  • Onions

    A large amount is used to bring out the sweetness of the curry 

  • Carrots

    Add color and a hint of sweetness 

  • Potatoes

    Add the enjoyable crunchy texture of potatoes 

  • Meat

    Pork, beef or chicken is used, depending on the family's preference.

     

The way of making Japanese curry rice has several characteristics.

  • Use of roux

    Japanese curry is usually made with a store-bought curry roux.

    This makes it easy to enjoy authentic curry at home. 

  • Cooking time

    Slow cooking of the ingredients results in overall tenderness and allows the flavors to soak in.

  • Thickness

    Japanese curry is not soupy, but rather has a thick, stew-like finish. 

    This thickness is added with curry roux or flour.

     

How to eat

Japanese curry can be enjoyed with a variety of toppings. 

Below are some of the most popular ones:

  • Fukujin-zuke

    Red pickles (typically made with daikon Japanese raddish or cucumber), which soothe the curry’s spiciness 

  • Rakkyo

    Crunchy Japanese scallions pickled in sweet vinegar that pair perfectly with curry 

  • Soft-boiled egg

    A half-boiled egg can be placed on top for a mellow flavor 

  • Katsu

    Katsu curry is a hearty curry topped with a slice of freshly deep-fried tonkatsu (pork cutlet)


The wide variety of toppings is another charm of Japanese curry.

Add cheese on top or seasonal vegetables to create your own favorite curry.

 

Types

  • Katasu Curry (Curry with Pork Cutlet)

    A luxurious curry topped with freshly deep-fried tonkatsu. 

    The dish is generous in volume and highly satisfying, with the cutlet's crispiness and the curry's thickness creating a perfect harmony.

    Katsu curry can be easily prepared by making curry and rice, deep-frying the pork cutlet, and placing it on top of the curry. 

    In addition to pork, chicken or beef is also used for the cutlet. 

    Pouring a little tonkatsu sauce over the cutlet changes the taste for even more enjoyment.

     

  • Soup Curry

    This soup-like curry originated in Hokkaido. 

    In this curry, the spicy soup and ingredients are enjoyed separately. 

    The ingredients include boned chicken and chunky vegetables, which makes it a satisfying meal. 

    Soup curry is prepared by making a spicy soup with simmered chicken and vegetables, serving the ingredients separately. 

    The spiciness of the soup is adjustable, and people often adjust the spiciness to their preference.

     

  • Indian Curry

    Indian-style curry with authentic spices. 

    It is usually enjoyed with naan bread or rice, and its variety of spices creates a complex flavor. 

    Spices such as cumin, coriander, and turmeric are used to make the curry base, which is then flavored with yogurt and coconut milk for an authentic taste. 

    Many Indian curries are made with chicken or beans, and are even more delicious when enjoyed with raita (yogurt sauce) and pickles.

     

  • Keema Curry

    A curried pilaf made with ground meat. 

    Keema curry is characterized by its spicy, rich flavor, which blends the sweetness of tomatoes and onions with the pungency of spices.

    The dish is prepared by sautéing ground meat, adding onions, garlic, and ginger, seasoning with spices, and simmering to remove moisture. 

    Beef, pork, or chicken is used for the ground meat, and it is usually served over rice. 

    Topping with a raw egg or cheese makes it even more delicious.

 

Local Curries

  • Yokosuka Kaigun Curry (Kanagawa Prefecture)

    This curry was developed during the Meiji era as a naval meal with nutritional balance in mind. 

    It is characterized by its generous amount of meat and vegetables with salad and milk served on the side. 

    The dish is made by simmering onions, carrots, and potatoes in a base of beef or chicken, often using a store-bought roux.

     

  • Kanazawa Curry (Ishikawa Prefecture)

    This curry features a rich, thick curry base. 

    It is served on a stainless steel plate with shredded cabbage, and is usually eaten with a fork rather than a spoon. 

    The curry base is made thick, topped with deep-fried food (often pork cutlet), and served with shredded cabbage.

     

  • Kanda Curry (Tokyo)

    The Kanda area of Tokyo is home to many specialty curry restaurants, each serving a unique curry. 

    You can enjoy a wide variety of curries throughout the area, from spicy Indian to European styles. 

    Each restaurant uses its own mix of spices and cooking methods that take time and effort.

     

  • Curry Udon (Aichi Prefecture)

    The dish is a fusion of Nagoya's unique food culture and curry. 

    The curry clings to the thick udon noodles for a pleasantly rich, spicy flavor. 

    Curry base is combined with udon broth, simmered with vegetables and meat, and served with udon noodles.

     

  • Miyazaki Chicken Nanban Curry (Miyazaki Prefecture)

    This dish combines Miyazaki's famous chicken nanban (fried chicken with tartar sauce) and curry. 

    The flavors of sweet vinegar and tartar sauce pair perfectly with curry. 

    The curry is prepared by making chicken nanban and placing it on the curry with tartar sauce on top.

 

Summary

Japanese curry not only adds color to everyday meals, but also showcases the richness of the country's food culture through its diverse variations. 

Through Japanese curry, we hope people from different cultural backgrounds can experience and enjoy a glimpse of Japanese culture.