Japanese Curry: A Culinary Delight
When you think of Japanese cuisine, sushi or some type of seafood probably comes to mind. That’s totally understandable, as both are quintessential menu items in Japan. However, there’s another popular Japanese dish that doesn’t get as much attention as it should (at least from westerners): Japanese curry!
It’s as delicious as it is nutritious, and it’s one of the most popular dishes in Japan. Curry is a common dish found in countries throughout Asia and India, and each one has their own unique flavor, which is certainly the case with Japanese curry. Most curries have a robust, spicy flavor; in fact, they can make your taste buds sizzle. That isn’t the case with Japanese curry; it’s actually one of the mildest curries, and instead of being spicy, it’s actually pretty sweet. It’s thicker than other curries, too.
The main ingredients in this dish include potatoes, carrots, and onions, and a variety of meats can be added to it, such as pork, beef, and chicken. Japanese curry is served in three ways: over rice (curry rice), over noodles (curry udon), and curry bread (a pastry filled with curry). The most common is curry rice, which is usually simply referred to as “curry”; however, the other two options are pretty popular among the Japanese, too.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan and you want to familiarize yourself with the country’s cuisine before you arrive, or you just want to expand your palate, if you’d like to learn more about Japanese curry, one of the most beloved dishes in Japan, keep on reading!
History of Japanese Curry
We always find that having a bit of background information is a great way to develop an appreciation for food; especially if it’s something that you’ve never tried before. So, let’s take a look at a brief history of Japanese curry.
All curry originated in India. The British introduced the cuisine to Japan during the Meiji era (between the years 1868 and 1912), when the British Empire ruled the subcontinent of India. It wasn’t until the 1920s, though, that curry became popular among the Japanese. The Japanese Army and Navy adopted the dish, and the Imperial Japanese Navy served it to soldiers as a way to prevent thiamine deficiency (a condition that is medically known as “beriberi” and was a common affliction amongst the Japanese). In fact, to this day, Japanese curry remains as staple in the military diet; the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force serves it every Friday! Soon after curry was adopted by the military, its popularity became widespread, and civilians across the country grew to love it.
By the year 2000, curry was so popular that it was actually eaten more frequently than sushi or tempura, two other quintessential Japanese foods. Now, Japanese curry is so widely consumed that it really can be regarded as a national dish.
Now that you know a little bit about the history of Japanese curry, let’s talk about the defining feature of this dish: the sauce. Without the sauce, you curry wouldn’t be, well, curry; it would just be a plate of stewed veggies and meat on top of rice or noodles, or packed inside a pastry.
To make curry sauce, a few key ingredients are fried together: curry powder, flour, and oil. A couple of other ingredients are added into the mix, and once it’s all mixed together and fried up, it’s poured onto the veggies and meats, and everything is simmered together until the sauce (known as roux) becomes thick.
Typically, Japanese households use an instant curry roux to make sauce for their curry. This instant roux is sold as powder or in a block, and is made up of flour, powder, oils, and an assortment of seasonings. In 1963, House Foods, one of the largest food manufacturers in Japan, introduced a curry mix they called Vermont Curry. It contained honey and apple concentrate and was a lot molder and sweeter than any of the other curry mixes that were previously on the market. The introduction of Vermont Curry really sealed the deal for the popularity of Japanese Curry.
Using pre-made instant sauce speeds up the process of making Japanese curry; hence why it is so commonly used; in fact, Japanese curry is a lot easier to make than other types of Japanese dishes. You can also purchase curry that is completely pre-made and packaged in vacuum-sealed bags. Just place the bag in boiling water until the curry is heated through, carefully remove the bag from the water, slice it open, and pour the curry out. Of course, there are people who still make their own curry sauce from scratch; many top-quality restaurants serve “homemade” curry.
Curry is so popular in Japan that you can find it pretty much wherever food is served; the kitchens of residents, restaurants, grocery stores, and even convenience stores! If you’re traveling to the country, there’s no doubt that you’re going to come across Japanese curry on a regular basis.
It’s Considered a “Super Food”
Japanese curry isn’t just a delicious, soul-filling food that is relatively inexpensive and pretty easy to prepare; it’s also packed with nutrients. In fact, it’s so nutritious that it is regarded as a super food in Japan. As mentioned, the Imperial Japanese Navy served it to prevent beriberi, a condition that is caused by a thiamin deficiency. It has also been a popular menu item as Japanese elementary schools since the late 1940s to ensure that children are getting the nutrients they need.
A single dish of curry is a well-balanced meal. The potatoes in the curry itself and the rice or noodles that it is served over contain carbohydrates, which are a source of energy. The dish also contains meat, which provides protein, and the veggies (including carrots, onions, and the potatoes, too), are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
The roux, or sauce, that is used to make curry, is also rich in essential nutrients. That’s because it contains a lot of different herbs, spices, and other ingredients that are bursting with vitamins and minerals, such as curry powder, cayenne pepper, tomato paste, vegetable or beef stock, etc.
All Japanese curry is nutritionally-dense; both those that contain sauces that are made from scratch and those that feature pre-made roux. Even the stuff the totally pre-made curry that you can purchase in a bag and all you need to do is heat it up is considered highly nutritious.
There are Lots of Varieties of Japanese Curry
There are so many different varieties of Japanese curry. Some popular examples include:
- Dorai kare: fried rice that has a curry-flavoring, or traditional curry rice that features a drier minced meat sauce.
- Katsu kare: curry rice topped with breaded pork cutlet.
- Kare don: The sauce contains hondashi or mentsuyu and is served atop a bowl of rice.
- Yaki kare: curry rice that has a raw egg placed on top and is then baked in an oven.
- Supu kare: soup curry, which features a sauce that is similar to a broth and is served with larger ingredients, such as thick-cut veggies or a whole chicken leg.
Summing It Up
Whether you’re traveling to Japan or you’re just looking for something new to eat, give Japanese curry a try! With so many different varieties and so much flavor, you’ll be sure to find a dish (or several) that you’ll love.