When you talk about Japanese cuisine, would you associate it with curry? Surprisingly in 2000, a study was done and curry was one of the most frequent eat-out choice among Japanese, beating sushi and tempura along the way.
Origin of Japanese Curry
Japanese curry (カレー, karē) is commonly served in three main forms: curry rice (カレーライス, karē raisu, curry over rice), curry udon (curry over noodles), and curry bread (a curry-filled pastry). It is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. The very common “curry rice” is most often referred to simply as “curry”.
Curry was introduced to Japan during the Meiji era (1868–1912), at the time when the Indian subcontinent was under colonial rule by the British Empire. As part of the Meiji Restoration, Japan leaders followed the practices of the Western powers, including their dietary habits. It was during this period beef became a meat choice. And the Japanese Navy saw that the British Navy was eating curry, so they took that over too.
By the 1870s, curry began to be served in Japan, and became a staple within the Japanese diet. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century, when curry was adopted by the Japanese Navy and Army, that the dish began to become popular with the Japanese. After its favourable reception within the Japanese Army and Navy, it later became common in school cafeterias. By 2000, curry was a more frequent meal than sushi or tempura.
Curry House CoCo Ichibanya
For those of you who are looking for the traditional Indian-style curry, the one you are looking for is the Nakamuraya Curry. It was introduced to Japan by Indian nationalist Rash Behari Bose when he began to sell curry at Nakamura Bakery in Tokyo.
Established in 1978, “Curry House CoCo Ichibanya”, affectionately known as “CoCoICHI”, is a chain restaurant specialising in Japanese-style curry rice. Princess loves Coco’s curry because they are not hot spicy, just spicy spicy.
So how differently are they in Japan vs Singapore?
You can customise the amount of rice at increments of 100g, spiciness of the curry (1-10, 1x spiciness as base, 10x is 10 times that of base), what do you want as ingredients (many choices, including spinach and other weird choices like cheese). So you can go there everyday for the whole year and yet not repeat the same flavour. And then they have the kid’s curry made with honey that is sweet.
So you may be overwhelmed if you step in the very first time because every plate is customised. Or you may order by number 😉 Menus are available in Chinese, Korean, Thai, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
Princess ordered her favourite omelette curry with sausages. And I ordered the pork zanmai curry with pork tonkatsu (cutlet), hirekatsu (loin) and thinly-sliced pork. Delicious, the spiciness hits the spot and the katsu is crispy yet moist.
OK, the ordering process is not that complicated. You pick from the menu, and then choose the amount of rice and spiciness. And you can choose to add a couple of sides. Other than that, you can upgrade it to a set with a drink and a salad. That’s it.
I tried to order the same egg omelette curry (mild) with pork sausages like the one in Japan – not in the menu. So you have to add sausage as a top up. And they have different topping combinations in Singapore, and you are not free to mix and match any combinations that you want.
The curry tasted the same but something is missing from the entire experience.
Remembering that curry came into Japan through the foreign military, you can experience that even today in CoCoIchiban in Japan.
In Japan, CoCoIchiban is a quick lunch/dinner place frequented by the salaryman and students. It is not a family restaurant. Everything is clockwork – sit down, pour yourself a cold water, take the order sheet or the order tablet, tick what you want and wait. No fuss.
In Singapore, it is a family restaurant with parents and kids in tow. You get seated, you take the menu, you fuss over what you are ordering. And then someone takes your order. The efficiency and military precision from the whole operation is missing.
Since the pandemic happened, we grappled with many issues in Singapore – foreign workforce and the dependency of the F&B business on these borrowed help. We just need to look at Japan for a possible solution.