Think of Japanese food
and you'll probably have images of
exquisitely arranged sushi
dancing in your head...
but in reality, the most popular Japanese dish in Japan itself is
none other than the humble curry rice
, known as
. All cheap shokudou
eateries offer curry rice, often as the cheapest (and most filling)
dish. Poor and/or culinarily incompetent students buy little aluminum
bags of precooked curry at 100-yen shop
s for reheating in the microwave,
especially the legendary Bon Curry Gold
, guaranteed to
contain no more and no less than one (1) chunk of beef
smaller than the tip of your pinky in each bag. Housewives whip up large pots of the
stuff to feed the family.
Curry is a standby at Japanese festival
s large and small, and not
even a rash of poisoning
s in 1998
the murderer slipping cyanide
into the curry pot in what turned out
to be an attempt to collect the life insurance on hubby, managed to
get the Japanese to kick the habit. After the runaway success of the
Yokohama Ramen Museum
, a similar Yokohama Curry Museum
to celebrate the beloved dish and its history.
While obviously not a purely
native dish, being imported from India by traders, curry
started to become popular in the Meiji era and quickly mutated
into a distinctive Japanese version. The sauce is usually very brown
and very thick, with very little in the way of meat or
vegetables to relieve the monotony, especially in the cheaper
varieties. (Also note that, despite the name, Japanese curry rice
is curry served with rice, not rice flavored with curry.)
Conventionally sorted out into
amakuchi (甘口, mild), chuukara (中辛, medium hot)
and karakuchi (辛口, hot), not even the "hot" variety will
break a sweat for most Western tastes (much less Indian ones!).
Indian restaurants and other purveyors of "real" curry often
go out of their way to note that they are selling karii (or some such), not karee...
Japanese curry is nearly always prepared by using a commercial
curry roux, and in fact I have yet to find a decent recipe for
making your own so I won't attempt that here. Curry roux can
be found in any Japanese shop, popular (and largely indistinguishable)
brands include Golden Curry, Java Curry and the perplexingly
named Vermont Curry. Once you get your hands on some, here's
what to do with it:
- Dice the onions finely and cut the vegetables into small cubes
(although eggplant is often just sliced)
- Fry onions, meat and vegetables in a large pot until the meat
- Add water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes, skimming
off any scum that floats to the top.
- Lower heat, add curry roux and stir well. Simmer for another 10
minutes until mixture thickens.
Serves 4-6 people. The traditional accompaniments are sticky
Japanese rice and the pickle known as shichifukujinzuke
(七福人漬) or simply karee-yô tsukemono (カレー用漬物,
"pickle for curry"). Note that curry is one of the few Japanese
dishes eaten with a spoon, not chopsticks.
Another interesting (to say the least)
thing to do with karee sauce is to drop a
large spoonful into an ordinary bowl of udon noodles
in tsuyu soy-and-fish broth, instantly transforming
it into karee udon. This is, or at least
can be, considerably better than you would think!
And if you want even more calories in your dish,
you can slip a deep-fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu)
between the rice and the curry, transforming it
into katsu karee.