Gastronomer Lifestyle_A Love Letter to Japanese Curry

A Love Letter to Japanese Curry

Written by Tatshaya Bussayakittikorn

August issue ‘Japanese’, 2023 

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Japanese curry, or kare, the rich, flavourful sauce served over a bed of fluffy rice and often with katsu and a side of red relish holds a special place in my heart as Japan’s ultimate comfort food. In a recent survey by S&B Foods, a Japanese company known for producing and selling curry and condiments, it was found that the average individual in Japan consumes more than 80 servings of curry each year, or approximately one and a half servings per week. One of the reasons the dish is so popular is its ease of preparation in the home. With instant curry roux sold in every supermarket and combini in Japan and even in many of the supermarkets here in Thailand, anyone can craft their own version of kare by adding their own ingredients to the blank canvas that comes in cubes in a box. Secret ingredients can range from conventional taste enhancers, like ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, to more experimental choices, like instant coffee powder, which supposedly brings a bitterness to the party and gives the curry a sophisticated flavour upgrade.

The curry that we know and love today was first brought over by the British Navy to Japan during World War II. The Japanese Imperial Navy adapted the Indian-style curry to better suit their tastes, in the hopes of combatting beriberi, a lack of thiamine (vitamin B1) that was rife throughout the nation at the time. Coming a long way from wartime necessity, Japanese curry is now so widespread, even outside of Japan you are bound to encounter the dish not just on the table at a restaurant or at home but on television, in movies, series, and countless animes as well. Kare’s onscreen cameos are indeed how this dish made its way into my own home and became my family’s weekend comfort food.

Gastronomer Lifestyle_Kiseijuu sei no kakuritsu Ep1 Curry rice
Curry Rice from "Kiseijuu sei no kakuritsu" anime

It happened that my mother was watching her usual Sunday morning programme, when the network started broadcasting a Japanese anime. One scene of the cartoon featured a mum preparing curry for her family members. Amazed by how seemingly simple it looked to make the hearty and iconic dish on the screen, my mother decided to do quick research, gather ingredients, and try to recreate the golden wonder. Her first attempt was successful, and it fueled her to keep exploring ways to take the sauce to another level and make it her own. Being adventurous has never really been one of my mum’s strong suites, whether in exploring places or tastes, so she went with a more conventional choice: milk. But that splash of mundane milk somehow did wonders for the curry, giving it a richer flavour and creaminess. It also added to my mum’s confidence, equipping her with a culinary accomplishment to boast to her friends about. Now, when the weekend comes around, if the aroma of frying oil and kare fills the air, I know that I will also be greeted with the confident smile of a woman whose small victory is the simmering pot in the kitchen.

Just like how there’s a perfect someone out there for each of us, I believe that there’s also a perfect curry combination for each of us, too. As my mom found hers, I was compelled to search for my own and ended up choosing one of the most confusing ingredients: a bar of chocolate. My time on Google suggested that this bar of confectionary would add an extra depth along with a sweetness to the curry. Saying that I was confident dropping a chunk of chocolate into the pot would be a lie. But the beautiful thing about Japanese curry is that you can never really mess it up—thanks to the variety of spices that will inevitably mask any faults or errors. And even if you do somehow mess it up, just break off another curry roux block and try again. To my surprise (and relief), my chocolate curry turned out to be everything I hoped it would be.

The most exciting part is that my journey in exploring the possibilities of Japanese curry is far from over. In truth, it has really only just begun. And, if you’re now interested in finding your own special kare raisu, what are you waiting? Go out there, collect your ingredients, and get creative! A culinary adventure awaits.

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