Curry (カレー karē) is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. It is commonly served in three main forms: curry rice (カレーライス karē raisu), karē udon (thick noodles) and karē-pan. Curry rice is most commonly referred to simply as ‘curry’ (カレー karē).
A wide variety of vegetables and meats are used to make Japanese curry. The basic vegetables are onions, carrots, and potatoes. For the meat, beef, pork, and chicken are the most popular. Katsu-karē is a breaded deep-fried pork cutlet with curry sauce.
Curry was introduced to Japan during the Meiji era (1868–1912) by the British, at a time when India was under their administration. The dish became popular and available for purchase in supermarkets and restaurants in the late 1960s. It has been adapted since its introduction to Japan, and is so widely consumed that it can be called a national dish.
As curry rice was introduced to Japan via English cuisine, it was originally considered to be Western cuisine. This Western-style curry currently co-exists alongside Indian-style curry, which has become popular since the increase in Indian restaurants in the 1990s. A third style that combines these two, original curry (オリジナルカレー orijinaru karē), is also available. Western-style curry draws its influence from stews mixed with curry powder, which were popular amongst the British Navy. The Imperial Japanese Navy adopted curry from the Royal Navy, and now the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Friday menu is curry rice.
In the Kansai region, beef curry is most common, while in the Kantō region pork curry is most popular. This contrasts with South Asian curries where, due to the strong influence of Hinduism (which forbids beef) and Islam (which forbids pork), vegetarian, chicken and lamb curries are most common.
Curry sauce (カレーソース karē sōsu) is served on top of cooked rice to make curry rice. Curry sauce is made by frying together curry powder, flour, and oil, along with other ingredients, to make roux (ルー rū); the roux is then added to stewed meat and vegetables, and then simmered until thickened. Adding potatoes to curry sauce was introduced by William S. Clark of the Sapporo Agricultural College, due to rice shortages at the time.
In Japanese homes, curry sauce is most commonly made from instant curry roux, which is available in block and powder forms, and contains curry powder, flour, oils and various flavourings. Ease of preparation, and the wide variety and availability of instant curry mixes, has made curry rice very popular, as it is very easy to make compared to many other Japanese dishes. Pre-made curry is available in vacuum-sealed bags that can be reheated in boiling water.
Instant curry roux was first sold in powder form by House Foods in 1926, and in block form by S&B Foods in 1956. In 2007, Japanese domestic shipments of instant curry roux was 82.7 billion yen. Market share for household use in 2007 was captured almost entirely by House Foods (59.0%), S&B Foods (25.8%) and Ezaki Glico (9.4%).
Vacuum-sealed curry sauce, prepared by heating the pouch in hot water or the microwave, is also popular. As of financial 2007, curry sauce is the largest single category of vacuum-sealed foods in Japan, making up over 30% of sales.
- Katsu karē (カツカレー) – Curry rice served with a crumbed pork cutlet on top.
- Dorai karē (ドライカレー) – Curry-flavoured fried rice, or curry rice with a drier, mince meat curry sauce.
- Maze karē (混ぜカレー) – Curry rice, served with the sauce and rice already mixed. Popularised by the 自由軒 (Jiyūken) curry restaurants in Osaka.
- Karē don (カレー丼) – Curry sauce, thickened and flavoured with mentsuyu or hondashi and served on top of a bowl of rice, to give the curry a Japanese flavour.
- Aigake (合がけ) – Rice served with curry sauce and hayashi sauce (fried beef and onion, cooked with red wine and demi-glace).
- Yaki karē (焼きカレー) – Curry rice, topped with a raw egg and baked in an oven. Originally from Kitakyushu.
- Ishiyaki karē (石焼きカレー) – Curry sauce with rice served in a heated stone bowl, in a similar way to dolsot bibimbap.
- Sūpu karē (スープカレー) or soup curry – A watery, broth-like curry sauce served with chunky ingredients such as a chicken leg and coarsely-cut vegetables. Popular in Hokkaidō.
In the late 1990s, a number of regional specialty curries emerged, popularised as vacuum-sealed curry sauces. These include:
- Hokkaido Sika Deer curry – (えぞ鹿カレー ezoshika karē) from Hokkaido
- Scallop curry – (ほたてカレー hotate karē) from Aomori Prefecture
- Mackerel curry – (サバカレー saba karē) from Chiba Prefecture
- Apple curry – (リンゴカレー ringo karē) from Nagano Prefecture and Aomori Prefecture
- Nattō curry – (納豆カレー nattō karē) from Mito, Ibaraki
- Nagoya Kōchin Chicken curry – (名古屋コーチンチキンカレー Nagoya kōchin chikin karē) from Aichi Prefecture
- Matsusaka beef curry – (松阪牛カレー Matsusaka gyū karē) from Mie Prefecture
- Whale curry – (クジラカレー kujira karē) from Wakayama Prefecture
- Oyster curry – (牡蠣カレー kaki karē) from Hiroshima Prefecture
- Nashi pear curry – (梨カレー nashi karē) from Shimane Prefecture
- Black pork curry – (黒豚カレー kurobuta karē) from Kagoshima Prefecture
- Bitter melon curry – (ゴーヤーカレー gōyā karē) from Okinawa
The number of varieties continues to grow, each made from a certain region’s particular specialty ingredients. It is thought that the wide availability online of information on each new variety has helped fuel this boom.
Local curries are also being marketed to help boost tourism. Some varieties of this include Yokusuka navy curry (よこすか海軍カレー Yokosuka kaigun karē), sold in Yokusuka to promote its heritage as a naval base, and Zeppelin Curry (ツェッペリンカレー Tsepperin Karē) in Tsuchiura to promote the Zeppelin landing in 1929.
Japanese curry rice is served in anything from a flat plate to a soup bowl. The curry is poured over rice in any manner and amount.Japanese short grain rice, which is sticky and round, is preferred, rather than the medium grain variety used in Indian and Chinese dishes. It is usually eaten with a spoon, as opposed to chopsticks, because of the liquid nature of the curry, and is usually served garnished with vegetables pickled in vinegar such as fukujinzuke or rakkyo.