Japanese Curry Rice Popular Around the World



I heard that Japanese curry is popular all over the world. TasteAtlas, a website that introduces recipes and restaurants for traditional meals from around the world, ranked Japanese curry No. 1 in its “Best Traditional Food in the World” 2022 rankings.


It is described there as “one of the most popular dishes in Japan, brought from England and eaten during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Compared to Indian curry, it is less spicy, sweeter, darker in color, and thicker due to the addition of a roux made of wheat flour.” Curry, which is so common among Japanese people, seems to be a world-class national dish.



Surely no one can forget the taste of the curry their mother made for them as a child. Using commercially available curry roux, potatoes, carrots, onions, and meat, one can make a thick and creamy curry that they can then pour generously over a bed of rice. When I was in high school, my mother was sick in bed, so I made curry to give her something delicious to eat. I took my time to roast onions until they were golden brown and used curry powder to make this authentic curry. I’ve even had someone who makes good curry hit on me using the line, “I made curry. Would you like to come over to my house?”


Using commercially available curry roux, potatoes, carrots, onions, and meat, one can make a thick and creamy curry that they can then pour generously over a bed of rice. Curry is also made while camping. There is something special about eating curry outdoors with everyone.


Many households probably keep retort pouch curry, which can be easily eaten by one person, as a preserved food. There are about 3,000 kinds of retort pouch curries, including limited local flavors. Supermarkets even have shelves dedicated to retort pouch curries.


There are various types of curry available at restaurants, including thick European-style curry, popular soup curry, Indian curry served with naan, Thai curry, and curry ramen ……. Bakeries serve “curry buns,” which are crispy deep-fried dough buns filled with curry. And soba and udon noodle restaurants serve “curry nanban soba” and “curry udon” with Japanese-style broth, each so popular that specialty stores have sprung up.


According to a survey by the All Japan Curry Industry Cooperative Association, each person eats four servings of curry per month, or about once a week, which shows how popular curry is to people. It is also well known that Ichiro, a former major league baseball player, used to eat curry rice every morning for luck.


The first time curry appeared in Japanese literature was in an English dictionary published by FUKUZAWA Yukichi in 1860. About 100 years earlier, in the 1770s, the British brought commercialized spices, with recipes, from their colony in India to Japan. It was not until the Meiji period (1868-1912) that people actually began to eat it. At Western-style restaurants that appeared around the time of civilization’s opening to the outside world, “rice curry” became a treat and was placed on the menu along with “omelets,” “cutlets,” and “beefsteak.”



At the time, rice curry was becoming a very fashionable dish, and high-profile cultural figures such as NATSUME Soseki and MORI Ogai were fond of eating it. The first domestically produced curry powder appeared in 1905. It was manufactured and sold by a pharmaceutical wholesaler in Osaka (today’s SB Foods). In the Taisho era (1912-1926), curry powder spread to ordinary households, and in 1948, after World War II, it was added to school lunch menus.


The first easy and convenient solid curry roux, with thickening and umami ingredients added to curry powder, was introduced in 1950. Retortable curry, which can be eaten simply by heating the curry in a bag, was born in 1968. Some of you may remember astronaut MOHRI Mamoru was eating retort pouch curry in space.


 Various curry festivals are currently being held throughout Japan. The “Kanda Curry Grand Prix” is a festival to determine the number one curry restaurant in the Kanda area of Tokyo, a fierce battleground for a curry with over 400 curry restaurants. Among the curry restaurants in the Kanda area, 20 restaurants are selected to participate in the grand prix competition by fan votes, and the number one curry restaurant will be voted for by visitors on the day of the two-day event.



The Shimokitazawa Curry Festival, a town-wide event held in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, a popular town for young people, started in 2012 and has grown into a major event that attracts 120,000 people with about 120 restaurants participating by 2022, its 10th year. Not only the curry specialty restaurants but also local bars and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) will participate in the festival by creating curry menus and offering special menus only during the festival. During this time, the town is filled with tourists staring at a map to find a restaurant in order to try the curry they are looking for.


 Curry House CoCo Ichibanya, the largest curry chain, has 208 stores overseas (as of the end of February 2023) and has surprised Indians by expanding into India, the home of curry. In the UK, “Katsu Curry,” a curry topped with chicken cutlet, is also gaining popularity.


 In Japan, popular restaurants have long lines of customers. The owner works tirelessly to master the taste, changing the spice mixture depending on the weather and temperature as well as the season. Japanese curry, which is unparalleled in Japan, continues to evolve even today.





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