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Japan’s National Dish


Enjoy my home-made curry-rice

The “national dish” - curry-rice - is said to be eaten by many Japanese people once a week. It's more than 150 years since the Japanese came across this exotic dish that originated from India. This simple 'feast' of cooked rice covered in meat and vegetables boiled in a curry sauce has become one of the mainstays of the Japanese diet and is not only eaten at home and in restaurants around town, but has even made its way as far as space. The Curry Culture knows no bounds, as we create one Japanese dish after another, some of them combining the flavor of traditional dashi (Japanese soup stock) with that of curry.

Passed on by the British 150 Years Ago

Curry came to Japan in the late 19th century. It was introduced by the British, initially as a luxury food, but in due course unique Japanese recipes were created that included meat boiled up with potatoes, onions and carrots, and it became popular as a nutritious meal. Subsequently, we came up with unique, Japanese flavors and curry-rice became a firm favorite in Japanese homes when, in 1963, a mild, instant curry for children came onto the market, replacing the traditional image of "hot curry." It then went on to be regarded as a national dish.

One of the great appeals of curry-rice is that you are free to enjoy it as you please, boiling up your own selection of ingredients such as meat, sea-food, or vegetables etc., and popping them on top of your rice. Katsu-curry is a dish topped with hearty, pork cutlets, which is popular outside of Japan too.



Left: Hearty katsu-curry. A delicious smelling, fried pork cutlet is one of the most popular toppings
Right: Space Curry – developed for astronauts (Photo courtesy of House Foods)

In view of its flexibility and compatibility with all sorts of food, curry has been mixed with various local ingredients to create local specialty curries throughout Japan. Some of the popular ones are kaki-curry boiled up with salt-water oysters, and Japanese wagyu-curry that uses the finest grade of Japanese beef as a real luxury. Boil-in-the-bag versions of these curries can also be found in many specialty shops in Tokyo.

There is also a curry developed by a leading food manufacturer especially for those staying on the International Space Station (ISS). This curry has a stronger, spicy flavor than the curry on earth to compensate for the dull sense of taste caused by changes in the balance of fluids in the human body in outer space. The curry helps to supplement nutrients that tend to be lacking on-board, and includes many additives such as ukon (wild turmeric), calcium and vitamin D.

Curry Soba and Curry Ramen



Left: There are many versions of curry-rice, like this soup curry (Courtesy of GANESHA)
Right: Traditional Japanese udon noodles, combined with curry and reborn with the exciting taste of curry-udon

Although we use the overall term curry-rice, there are in fact several variations. There is soup-curry, where rice is soaked up in a smooth, easy-to-eat soup-style curry. Then there is "dry-curry" where rice is stir-fried with ground beef, chopped vegetables and nuts. And well-established stores throughout Japan are proud to provide them for the discerning palate. "white curry" has hit the spotlight in recent years. This has a white sauce base and its color is nothing like curry, making it seems a bit odd, but its mellow taste is attracting more and more fans.

Meanwhile, along with the spread of curry-rice, curry flavor has also been added to various Japanese dishes and transformed them. First on the list of popular dishes that appeared shortly after curry was introduced to Japan at the beginning of the 20th century were curry udon and curry soba, combining curry with udon or soba noodles. The delicate taste of Japanese dashi (soup stock) goes really well with the flavor of curry and in recent years "curry pot," where meat and vegetables, or fish, are all cooked up in a single pot, have become a staple dish, popular throughout homes and bars.



Left: First launched 40 years ago – “Curry Cup Noodle” © Nissin Foods Holdings Co.
Right: Dig in! A savory curry bread roll, fried in

In addition, in recent years "curry ramen" has been all the rage, combining curry and ramen. Once you taste this combination of curry and Chinese soup, you are addicted. Curry Cup Noodles are where curry ramen originated and in the 40 years since their release they have enjoyed on-going popularity, with more varieties created such as spicy ones and those with cheese added.

Curry bread is a fried bread roll that contains a dry-ish curry; and since its debut in the early 20th century, it has been much-loved as a snack that can be enjoyed any time.

Instant is not the end of it


The development of instant curry roux has spread curry culture throughout the Japanese

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In one year Japan consumes as many as 9.9 billion servings of curry. If we divide this by the total population it makes 78 meals per person, meaning that on the whole Japanese people eat it more than once a week. The development of solid curry roux has played a major part in how curry has come to be loved so much - you can make a complete meal by just adding the roux into the braised meat and vegetables in a pot.

The roux is made by adding spices such as turmeric, coriander and cumin, and seasonings and herbs to roasted flour and boiling it all down to a solid roux. It not only features the heat and fragrance of the spices, but also condenses the koku (body) and umami (taste) that are the preferred flavors of the Japanese, such as fruity sweetness and salty/sour seasoning. If you visit the aisles of any major supermarket in Japan and look at the dozens of curry roux lined up side by side, you can see the results of repeated studies by the food manufacturers into the preferred flavors and spiciness of various generations and households.


“Our House Curry”- with that closely-guarded, secret taste

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It may be criticized as being "instant after all." However, while you can produce an authentic tasting curry just using the roux as it is, in many homes they make their own blends by mixing it with other roux; they also add a paste made by sautéing onions for several minutes until they turn light brown. Furthermore, curry-rice is made in Japanese homes with the addition of its own secret ingredients such as soy-sauce or miso (bean paste), Worcestershire sauce, chocolate or instant coffee.

As well as the convenient solid roux, research into the insatiable appetite that the Japanese have for their favorite curry aims to break new ground.

(January 2014)

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