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A bowl of Japanese curry.
A bowl of Japanese curry.

Curry Rice: The Ultimate Guide to this Fusion Dish!

Thuy FangThuy Fang
Published Time
Posted on September 30, 2023
Modified Time
Updated last October 31, 2023

Curry rice is one of the most famous foods in Japan, carrying the essence of the nation, just like sushi, ramen, or yakisoba. Many foreign tourists come here specifically to taste the diverse and enticing curries. For generations, the Japanese have adapted this traditional Indian dish, transforming its flavors, textures, and ingredients into something captivating and renowned worldwide!

What is curry rice?

Japanese curry is a thick soup-like mixture made from curry roux and chunky vegetables like onions, potatoes, and carrots. In Japan, people usually enjoy this curry sauce with udon and fried bread, but the most popular way is with rice. Rice curry is so beloved here that just mentioning it will make people immediately think of it. So, you must try Japanese curry rice when you’re here!

To go well with rice, the curry sauce in Japan is made thick and gravy-like, not watery like the original dish. The curry rice is served with toppings like sausages, grilled meat, or fried vegetables. Additionally, the Japanese like to eat it with fukujinzuke, a type of Japanese pickle made from cucumbers, radishes, eggplants, and lotus roots.

Where did it come from?

Curry, originating from India, has a global influence on cuisine. During British colonization in the 1700s and 1800s, they experienced Indian curry, a blend of delicious dishes. That dish’s flavors and variety of spices deeply impressed them, and it soon became a favorite in Britain.

In the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan became more connected to the world after being isolated. At that time, British naval officers introduced curry powder to Japan. The Japanese Navy quickly embraced it as a convenient and wholesome meal for sailors. The military initially consumed the dish. However, it later gained popularity among the general population since the launch of domestically made curry mixes in the Taisho era (1912-1926).

A bunch of Indian spices that influenced Japanese curry.
Curry came from India by way of Britain. Image via Shutterstock

Over time, Japanese cooks adapted and fused curry to match Japanese flavors and the curry rice ingredients. Japanese curry has a unique taste with mild spiciness, a touch of sweetness, and a denser texture compared to the native curry of India. Another notable point is that Japanese people eat curry with Japanese white rice instead of basmati rice, like in Indian cuisine.

In the 1950s, a company in Japan called S&B Foods introduced a convenient instant mix called “curry roux” in block form, making it easy for everyone to prepare simple yet delicious curry rice at home. This innovative development made curry rice even more accessible and contributed to its widespread recognition.

What are the different variations of curry rice?

Katsu Curry Rice

A bowl of katsu (deep fried cutler) curry rice.
Katsu curry uses chicken, pork, and sometimes even beef! Image via Shutterstock

Katsu curry is a meal with a large portion of crunchy, deep-fried meat covered in curry. In Tokyo, it’s usually a thick slice of pork; in Kansai, they go with beef. When savoring katsu curry, you’ll experience the perfect blend of the crispiness from the outer breadcrumbs, the juicy and tender meat, and the flavorful warmth of the curry sauce filling your mouth.

Soup Curry

Soup curry was born in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It closely resembles traditional Indian curry because of its more liquid consistency compared to other varieties in Japan. However, Sapporo locals often roast or prepare the veggies and ingredients separately; unlike Indian curry, it takes time to blend everything. 

Yaki curry

Yaki curry, or baked curry, is a beloved comfort Japanese food, especially popular in Kyushu. This local specialty gained its origin and reputation in the 1950s when a creative chef created the idea of baking the remaining curry in the oven. It’s often garnished with a topping of oozing egg and melting cheese to enhance its flavor and texture.

Dry Curry

A bowl of dry curry with meat.
Dry curry has less curry than the original version. Image via Shutterstock

This dish can be simply understood as curry fried rice, so it is not as saucy as regular curry. Dry curry is made by cooking with rice so that the rice absorbs all the sauce and then turns yellow. When cooking, the Japanese like to mix vegetables and minced meat with curry fried rice to make the whole dish look and taste yummier. 

Are you looking to enjoy even more fusion snacks from Japan? Check out TokyoTreat! TokyoTreat delivers the best Japanese snacks, drinks, sweets, and noodles straight from Japan to your door so that you can have a fun summer party at home!

Which restaurants serve curry rice?

CoCo ICHIBANYA Curry House

CoCo ICHIBANYA, shortened to CoCo ICHI, is the world’s largest curry chain. Established in 1978, this restaurant chain has become a beloved spot all over Japan, expanding over a thousand outlets.

Beyond Japan, it has also spread its fame and its restaurants to the United States and many Asian countries, namely China, Vietnam, Thailand, and even India. Coco ICHI is world-renowned for being budget-friendly while offering a fantastic dining experience for everyone.

The Coco Ichibanya storefront, which sells a lot of Japanese curry rice dishes.
CoCo Ichibanya is one of the most famous chains in the world! Image via Shutterstock

The menu offers a delightful array of curry rice dishes, each with specific ingredients such as potatoes, eggplants, pork, beef, chicken, fish, and many more. One of the standout dishes is the incredible Karaage Curry (Japanese fried chicken curry). Besides, the restaurant also offers omelet curry, a perfect blend of soft scrambled eggs and rich curry flavor. 

Moreover, customers can personalize their meals at this curry house by freely selecting toppings they want to enjoy with the curry rice. Even more remarkable is that CoCo ICHI offers a diverse vegetarian menu with countless vegetable toppings!

GoGo Curry

You might have heard of GoGo Curry since it’s well-known in Japan, the US, and a few European countries. This restaurant chain is easily recognizable by its distinctive gorilla logo. In Japan, there are around 80 branches of GoGo Curry all around. You can order your food using a vending machine when you enter any restaurant in this chain.

The Gogo Corry storefront.
GoGo Curry came from Kanazawa. Image via Shutterstock

People adore GoGo Curry because they are served top-quality curry dishes that are also affordable. And its superstar dish is Kanazawa Curry. It is fantastic that you enjoy a plate of savory curry sauce with a giant pork cutlet and free-refilled cabbage.

Joto Curry

Joto Curry is part of a famous Japanese curry chain originating from Osaka. It is in bustling Tokyo locations such as Shibuya, Akihabara, and Yokohama. Furthermore, Joto Curry has a diverse menu, including cheese katsu and shrimp curry. The signature curry is topped with a 40-year-old Osaka-born curry sauce, offering a delightful blend of sweetness and spiciness.

A bowl of curry rice from Joto Curry.
The Joto Curry chain originated in Osaka. Image via Foodsaketokyo

In short, Japanese curry rice stands as an iconic delicacy all over the world. It’s not only remarkable for its unique origins but also the creativity of skillful Japanese chefs. They have brought to food enthusiasts a superb dish with numerous interesting varieties. If you can visit the beautiful country of Japan, don’t forget to visit at least one renowned curry restaurant in Tokyo. Which restaurant is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below! 

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