Curry : The Unsung Hero of Japanese Cuisine

Curry was first introduced into Japan by the English (who would have guessed it eh!) in 1859, which was during the Meji period (1868-1912) and when England colonized India. At the time, English sailors liked to eat stew but due to milk (used for seasoning apparently) not being able to keep over long journeys they used curry spice instead. Making some kind of awesome curry-stew that had meat, carrots, potatoes etc. and seasoned with curry powder.Mountains Photo

On land the first mention of curry in Japan was in a book called seiyouryourishinan (A Guide Book to Western Cuisine) which introduced how to make an interesting variation of the curry that was introduced by the English sailors, containing frog and spring onion (yummy). At the time the English used curry powder such as the one made by Crosse & Blackwell, but being an imported product for those in Japan it was often too expensive for the average person to buy during the Meji period.

It was especially after the war however, around 1950, when there was the biggest development for Japanese curry. The curry roux was invented. Apparently inspired by chocolate bars, the curry roux is like a ‘mini block’ of curry containing all the necessary spices to make a mighty fine curry. All that is needed is water and the gu (ingredients). Speaking of which, as mentioned before the Japanese curry was originally based on the stew like curry that the Brits brought over, and so the Japanese curry had a lot of vegetables. Key vegetables being, onion, carrots and potatoes, which were all produced in Hokkaidao (Japan’s most north island), the government actively supporting the use of the domestic vegetable in the curry.

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Today curry is eaten everywhere and often thought to be the most loved dish here. According to this website by one of Japan’s biggest curry makers, based on research by the government (Japanese governments do some bad ass research!) around 14.878 tonnes of curry powder was produced in 2012 which amounts for around 9.9 billion plates of curry! Divided by the population of Japan, then this amounts to 77.5 plates of curry per year per person, more than once a week.

Nowadays in Japan you you have curry bread, curry rice, curry udon, curry everything. A big debate among the curry lovers out there being do you mix your rice or not. An entire article was written about this subject by a website called rocket news 24. I have had the debate myself a few time with Japanese students when I was in university (happy times!) For those that are curious, I am a mixer myself. There is even a curry research center which has around 10 ‘researchers’ whose job it is to of course, research about curry! Amazing.

For those of you that are still determined that ‘curry’ rice isn’t a Japanese dish, then lets take another last look at curry 101. It may come to surprise those who are uneducated in the ways of the curry (what have you done with your life?!) that in India there isn’t actually a dish called ‘curry’. In fact, stealing the quote used by wikipedia from Collingham, Lizzie. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors:

In other words, you won’t really find just a ‘curry’ in India. Pretty wild eh.

While curry might not be Japan’s oldest dish, the name is written in the foreign scripts katakana and was originally based on what the English brought over, I think it is fair to say that today it is very much a distinct and unique Japanese dish. No doubt overlooked by many visitors when they come to Japan, it is eaten and loved by thousands of Japanese citizens. So next time you think of the definitive Japanese foods, as well as sushi, ramen and tempura, please don’t forget to include curry too!

Crazy about Japanese curry too? Let me know in the comments!

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10 thoughts on “Curry : The Unsung Hero of Japanese Cuisine

  1. Autumn Rome

    I just wanted to say, Japanese curry is my favorite dish on the PLANET! I’m from America and virtually NO ONE knows about Japanese curry. Even the curry we have in the US, (which is an IMPORT from Japan) people think is actually from India! Nice to see another curry lover out there!

    Reply
    1. wijapanc Post author

      Hi Autumn Rome!

      Thanks for stopping by and for the comment!

      My life policy is ‘No Curry, No Life’!

      Thanks for the information! Lucky that you get Japanese curry over there (even if people think it is from India!). When I went back to the UK, it was impossible to get Japanese curry anywhere. Dark, sad times indeed.

      Anyway thanks again for the comment my fellow curry lover!

      Reply
        1. Luke Palfreeman Post author

          Hey Troo thanks for reading and the great information! Think that is the best thing I have heard all year! Will have to check it out next time I am in good the UK.

          Thanks again!

          Reply
  2. Fei

    I found your blog randomly– I don’t remember how. But I love the way you guys write. 🙂 I’m definitely going to bookmark this blog!

    Reply
    1. wijapanc Post author

      Hey Fei!

      Thank you for stopping by and great comment! We really appreciate it when readers tell us they like our work! Very honored to have earned ‘bookmark’ ranking!

      Really looking forward to getting more contents out to everyone over the next very months!

      Thanks again!

      Reply
  3. Zheng

    I love curry. Coming from Malaysia where the spices are great, not having curry and not knowing how to eat curry is a sin.
    Unfortunately, because our curries are so heavily influenced by India and spice lands in Asia, Japanese curry is deemed to be too watered down, lack of taste etc.
    Still, I agree with you, I ain’t prejudice against my curry and this is one really entertaining read.

    Cheers

    Reply
    1. wijapanc Post author

      Hi Zheng! Thanks for the comment and stopping by. Really happy you found the article entertaining!

      Wow thanks for the information, my knowledge towards Malaysian curry is embarrassing lacking so was all very interesting. I think it should be a sin in every country to not have or know how to eat curry! I can understand why some people might consider Japanese curry more ‘watered down’ compared to Indian curries etc. but think it has a more hearty flavour.

      But as you say, I ain’t prejudice against my curry! The more curry variations, the better!

      Thanks again for the comment!

      Reply
  4. Ukrgirl

    I grew to love Japanese curry when we lived in Japan for three years. I love that we can put a ton of vegetables inside, leave it vegetarian or add meat. My kids love Japanese curry! When I make it at home, I prefer the powdered kind rather than granule/package kind as it seems to taste more naturally that way. Miss Japan!

    Reply
    1. Luke Palfreeman Post author

      Hi UKrgirl! Thank you for the comment! The versatility of Japanese curry is indeed amazing. I also love the fact that you essentially got your daily need of vegetables just by making an awesome tasting vegetable curry. In fact when I went to cocoichi, the Japanese chain curry restaurant, they had ‘curry soup’ that was just full of vegetables https://www.ichibanya.co.jp/menu/detail.html?id=336 it was great (though the source a little weak for my liking).

      I myself am a powder and spice kinda guy. As you say it just seems to taste more natural that way!! Also I think you can infuse the flavour into the ingredients a lot more if you use powder.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      Reply

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