Japanese Curry Recipe (カレーライス)

By Umami Recipe
Japanese Curry Recipe (カレーライス)

Have you ever tried Japanese curry rice? When it comes to Japanese cuisine, sushi and ramen are probably the most famous. But just like those dishes, curry is also a very popular menu item in Japan, where there exists a curry culture that is completely different from India and Thailand. In this article we review several types of curry rice that are popular in Japan, as well as recipes for making curry rice at home.

What is Japanese Curry Rice?

It is believed that the roots of Japanese curry came from the British style Indian curry that was eaten by the British Navy. This curry is characterized by rice and a spicy flavored curry sauce. Upon introduction to Japan, this British style curry further evolved to accommodate the Japanese palate. In the Meiji era (1868-1912), the number of Western-style restaurants began to increase and curry became known to the general public. Later, in the Taisho era (1912-1926), S&B Foods, a successful food manufacturer, developed a wildly popular curry powder. It became widely consumed not only in restaurants but also in homes. Variations such as authentic Indian and Pakistani curry, Southeast Asian soup curry, and curry combined with Japanese cuisine are now enjoyed by people of all ages. In Japan, there is also a unique curry made of soybeans and mushrooms.

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Japanese Curry vs. Thai and Indian Curry

India and Thailand are two countries where currys stand out as an important part of culinary tradition. Although not as globally familiarized, Japanese curry has its own characteristics that merit consideration. For example, Japanese curry is paired with japonica rice instead of indica rice. Japonica rice is a short-grained rice that is sticky and sweet. In Japan, the combination of hot rice and curry roux is considered a perfect recipe for the hot summer months. Alternatively, Indica rice is used in Thai and Indian curries. Indica rice is a long grain rice that is dry and has a strong aroma.

Another feature, Japanese curry roux is prepared as a thick sauce made of vegetables mixed with spices and simmered together for up to several hours. In the case of Indian curry, there are regional differences in the types of curry. Some curries are made with fish, some with only vegetables, some are smooth, and some are thick. Whereas Thai curries are usually smooth and have a lighter consistency much like a soup.

When it comes to taste, Japanese curry is moderately spiced and the umami of the vegetables and meat are drawn out in the form of a thick sauce. In Indian curry, ingredients are cooked with a robust amount of spices such as salt, pepper, chili and ginger. Many Indian curries contain lots of chili peppers, turmeric and garlic. You can feel the umami of the ingredients and the stimulation of the spices. Thai curry is made with coconut milk and chili, a combination that produces a complex taste of smooth sweetness and spice that harmonize in the mouth.

Popular Curry Rice in Japan

Curries that are popular in Japan have a few differences from that of foreign countries. Particularly, you will find pork cutlet curry, chicken curry, beef curry, dry curry and pork curry among the most loved in Japan. We will now take a look at these curries and the secrets behind their popularity.

Katsu-Curry (カツカレー)

Curry with pork cutlet is a dish of curry with the addition of a large deep-fried pork or chicken cutlet. It is said that curry with pork cutlet originated in Japan at a restaurant that served Western style cuisine about 100 years ago. The story is that a baseball player asked for a pork cutlet on his curry, and that was just the beginning of this combination. Today, curry with pork cutlet is a staple in many Western-style restaurants and curry shops across Japan. Many people are drawn to the rich pairing of curry and pork, but others feel that the combination of fried food and curry is hard on the stomach and intestines. For those people, curry with pork cutlet is often served with vegetables like shredded cabbage.

Chicken Curry (チキンカレー)

Chicken curry is a popular curry in its native India, as the consumption of chicken is not taboo in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. For this reason, it is widely eaten as a standard curry in India. Chicken curry is also very popular in Japan as a delicious and economical substitute to other more expensive meats like beef and pork. There is also a growing popularity in Indian curry restaurants, propelled by the growing number of foreigners immigrating to Japan. Chicken is also a good source of protein, making chicken curry an attractive meal for student athletes who are training for strength and fitness.

Beef Curry (ビーフカレー)

Beef is a tougher meat when compared to chicken and pork, necessitating a longer cooking time if the desired result is soft flavorful beef that melts into the roux. Beef adds a richness to the roux that other meats can't compare with, especially when lightly fried in butter or stewed in red wine before stewing with the vegetables. Incidentally, in Japan, curry preferences are divided between Eastern and Western regions. Generally speaking, beef curry is more popular in the west and pork curry in the east. Beef curry tends to be more difficult to prepare, so it is often eaten at restaurants. Exquisitely cooked beef curry is irresistible, with the beef melting in your mouth and exploding with flavor.

Dry Curry (ドライカレー)

Dry curry is made with ground meat and low water content. In India, there is Keema Curry, which people often mistakenly equate dry curry with. However, keema curry still has higher water content than Japanese dry curry. The ingredients used in dry curry usually consists of chopped carrots and onions, whereas keema curry uses chickpeas and a variety of spices. Though both keema curry and dry curry use ground meat. Dry curry can be said to be a type of keema curry that evolved in Japan.

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Pork Curry (ポークカレー)

Pork curry is the most commonly eaten and easily prepared curry in Japan, and most of the curry made at my home is pork curry. Curry with a lot of ingredients such as pork, onions, potatoes and carrots mixed in is a representative of curry that Japanese people love. Large portions of pork curry are also served at restaurants. When eating curry in Japan, why not try the common pork curry first?

Japanese Curry Add-ons

There are a variety of garnishes to add to Japanese curry. In particular, the addition of fukujinzuke and rakkyo is unique to Japanese food culture. Let's take a closer look at Japanese curry add-ons.

Fukujinzuke (福神漬)

Fukujinzuke is a pickle made from vegetables such as daikon, eggplant, shiitake, lotus root, and cucumber, seasoned with sugar, soy sauce and mirin. Seven kinds of vegetables were originally used in fukujinzuke, which is why it was also called "Nanafukujinzuke", with "nana" meaning "seven" in Japanese. According to the standards of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, pickles that can be made from five or more types of vegetables are considered fukujinzuke. The vegetables used for fukujinzuke vary depending on the season and region, and sometimes turnips or udo are used. Incidentally, most of the fukujinzuke sold on the market are colored with red food coloring. The bright red color served with brown curry is very appetizing.

Rakkyo (らっきょう)

Rakkyo is a vegetable that originates from China. It has many medicinal properties and has been eaten in Japan since the Heian period (794-1185). When eaten, it is mainly the voluminous white portion of the root that is eaten. When served with curry, the rakkyo is pickled in sweet vinegar. The sweet and sour taste blends well with curry.

What is Japanese Curry Roux?

Curry roux is an ingredient that is dissolved in water to make the sauce for the curry. It is a solid, paste or flaky mixture made by frying flour in butter and mixing it with curry powder, spices and umami ingredients. Curry roux is indispensable when making curry at home, as it makes it easy to make curry. In Japan, each food manufacturer sells all kinds of curry roux. Many of them have unique characteristics in terms of spiciness and taste, and it is fun to try out the different curry roux options.

Popular Curry Roux (Vermont Curry, Java Curry, and Golden Curry)

The most ubiquitous curry roux brands sold in Japan are Vermont Curry, Java Curry and Golden Curry. The most famous manufacturers are S.B. Foods and House Foods, which were the first to successfully produce curry powder in Japan. Vermont Curry is sweetened with apples and honey, and is popular among children. Javanese curry is characterized by its authentic spiciness and is a popular curry roux among middle-aged and older adults. Golden Curry is characterized by its deep umami and aroma of spices made from 35 different spices. And it doesn't stop there. Walk into any supermarket in Japan and you will find shelves full of curry roux options catering to all preferences and tastes.

Spice Level

There are three main levels of spiciness when it comes to the curry sauce: sweet, medium and spicy. With the recent boom in spicy foods, curry roux that is even spicier than standard spicy options are now available. The preference of spiciness varies depending on people's preferences and what you are willing to try!

Cooking Japanese Curry at Home

This article took a thorough look at Japanese curry, popular curries in Japan, common additions and curry roux. Curry in Japan was introduced by the British Royal Navy and has evolved to cater to the available ingredients, tastes and preferences of the Japanese. As a result, curries such as curry with pork cutlet and dry curry, which are unique to Japan, have emerged. Curry is now considered a nationally recognized dish, and is one of the most important foods to learn more about Japanese food culture. When you come to Japan, why not order curry at a restaurant or try curry roux to get a taste of why the Japanese are so fond of this cuisine?

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