Think you know everything about Japanese curry?
It all changed when I started traveling around Japan and trying different curry restaurants, only to find that flavors, ingredients, and toppings varied from place to place. Sure, the base concept is the same, but there is an art to curry--something that reflects and magnifies its surroundings. Local chefs have taken this staple food and made it into something so much more than a curried soup and rice, so the question remains, who holds the crown for best Curry?
Of course, I recommend traveling to all the different prefectures and visiting the myriad curry establishments, but fortunately, you don't necessarily have to travel all over Japan to try every different type- you can always pick up curry mixes at your friendly Don Quixote store!
There are a number of special categories for Japanese curry, but here are the most interesting:
Maritime Self-Defense Force:
Aboard Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) vessels, there is a singular tradition found across the entire fleet, and that is Curry Fridays. Now each ship's galley tries to create its own version of curry and vies for the top prize as the best curry in the entire MSDF. Some are so good they are even marketed for public consumption! If you are near a MSDF base during your travels, visit a curry shop right off base and they are sure to have some local MSDF-inspired options (or pick up the special MSDF curry to eat at home!).
Just like there are different types of Okonomiyaki based on regions, prefectures offer different types of curry. For example, in Hokkaido, the curry flavor borrows heavily from the English and Russian influences for a deep, buttery curry that warms you to the core to fight off the cold winters. If you do it Hakodate style, you have to make sure there are heaps of seafood.
Other prefectures choose to use its signature fruits and veggies in the curry. In Aomori, apples are used to give the curry a bit of sweetness to contrast the spice.
There are 47 prefectures and many, many more cities that pride themselves on a particular flavor and type of curry, but these were just a few.
Special Ingredient-focues Curries:
Of course, there are certain curries that focus on special ingredients, like Mentaiko (Pollock Roe) Curry and this one below: NATTO Curry! My wife and I are pretty convinced that the anime character on the box is there to distract consumers from the fact that they are about to purchase curry that has NATTO as a special ingredient.
Of course, there are many options, but allow me to offer my favorite: Tottori Curry. Tottori Curry uses a bit of tomatoes in the sauce to give it a unique flavor, and they boil chicken drums whole in the curry. This infuses the curry with delicious flavor and makes the chicken fall-off-the-bone tender.
The delicious Tottori Curry shown above was prepared by Piccolo Cafe, right outside the Warabekan (Toy Museum) in Tottori City.
For more information on the basics of curry, see my wife Kim's article, "Japanese Curry--What is it, and Where can I get it?" Thanks for reading!