Wednesday 6 September 2017

Japan's National Dish: Curry Rice?

A pyramind of curry rū (roux) piled up in a local supermmarket
Supermarket display of curry (roux)
Curry may be the national dish of Britain, but it's practically a national dish in Japan too - albeit one introduced by the British. A 2008 survey found that 20% of men ate "curry rice" (カレーライス) - basically curry on top of rice - once or more a week with 92% of all respondents saying they liked it. For children, it consistently comes in at number one in lists of favourite dishes: since 1945 it has remained the top choice for elementary schoolers. Interestingly number 2 and 3 in the ranking has become a lot more luxurious in recent years: whereas omu-raisu (rice inside an omelette) and hamburgers made up the top three for post-war kids, today sushi and fried-chicken occupy those spots! Other everyday curry staples include karē-udon (curry on top of thick noodles), karē-pan (deep-fried pastry filled with curry), and even curry pizzas!

Perhaps one of the reasons for the popularity of curry-rice is that it is very easy to cook - but at the time relatively healthy. Japanese typically use curry blocks known as karē-(roux) to make the sauce - the picture above shows them piled up on display in a local supermarket. Onions, potatoes, carrots, and meat (chicken or beef) are the standard ingredients, but other popular additions include garlic (nin-niku), aubergine/eggplant (nasu), honey (hachimitsu), chocolate, and even coffee! The sauce itself tends to be rather mild and sweet - apple and honey is a popular roux flavour - and rather different from Indian curry which is also popular in Japan. In terms of toppings, cheese, egg, and especially katsu - deep-fried pork or other cutlets - are common. My simple five-step recipe is pictured below: no potatoes (because my wife doesn't like them in curry!) but I add green pepper (pīman) and brown-beech mushrooms (buna-shimeji) together with quail eggs (uzura no tamago) topped off with a giant pork cutlet and a sprinkling of cheese. The picture shows the final result: tasty even if I say so myself!
5 pictures showing the key steps in making curry-rice using a curry roux block
Left to Right: (1) Fry garlic and caramelise onions (2) add vegetables and keep frying  (3) add 850ml water; simmer for 15 minutes while removing aku (scum) (4) stop heat and add roux; simmer on low heat for 10 minutes (5) done!
As a final aside, many speciality shops offer a giant katsu-karē which if eaten in a fixed time comes at no charge! For example, I recently read about a restaurant called Takeharu in Fuefuki, Yamanashi, which offers a huge pork cutlet curry dish weighing 4kg for ¥3,600: if you can finish within 15 minutes you apparently get a ¥10,000 prize!