The inspiration people seek: Anytime, anywhere and with anyone—this is truly Japan’s universal meal. In any season, at any time of day, at a restaurant or at home with your own special touch, you can eat and enjoy it at all kinds of locations. It’s the favorite food of some and just another dish to others, but it is rare to find someone who doesn’t like curry rice at all, so when you can’t decide on a menu for a meal, curry rice is a pretty safe choice.
If you did a survey of the menus of local corner eateries throughout Japan, you would probably find curry rice on more of them than any other dish, and thus it surely ranks at the top of “meals you can eat anywhere.” Besides kissaten and restaurants, you will often find it on the signs outside mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants or ramen shops, and on the menu of soba (buckwheat) or udon noodle shops, and even gyudon (cooked beef slices on rice) chain shops. It’s also a standard item at take-out bento box lunch shops.
For some reason, it’s also a food that takes you back—many people can remember the first time they ever ate it and have other fond memories of eating it. When you ask people what their ideal plate of curry rice is or what kind they like, the answers that come back are likely to be quite personal and sensory in nature. You could say this is something in common with talking about motorcycles.
In short: Curry rice came to Japan as a Western food: the “curry and rice” developed in Great Britain based on Indian curry. It was assimilated into the country’s culture with some Japanese alterations and is now one of its “national foods.” Because it has long ranked as the most popular home-cooked dish—meaning children eat it often in the formative years when their tastes and preferences take shape—curry rice is also mentioned frequently as a meal people associate with “mom’s cooking.” It’s also a constant top ranker among foods of choice on school lunch surveys, and many people say it was the first food they ever cooked while at summer camp, camping outdoors or in their first cooking lesson at school.
In the Japanese love of curry you will also find a good example of the national culture of assimilating foreign things and adding Japanese traits to them in the great number of curry variations you will find here. There’s dry curry (less of a sauce and more chunky), katsu curry (with a breaded deep-fried pork or chicken cutlet), curry nanban (curry on soba or udon noodles in a soup) curry don (curry on a bowl of rice), curry pan (curry inside a deep-fried piece of bread), curry man (curry inside a Chinese steamed bun), curry spaghetti, curry pizza and a variety of “local curries,” all evidence of the seemingly endless pursuit of the “the next big thing” in curry.
In the same way that Italians react to Japan’s napolitan spaghetti, people from India who visit Japan are usually surprised by the resourcefulness that the Japanese have brought to creating new variations of India’s staple food, and the fact that it has become a food of the common people of this country. The expression from a popular TV commercial for curry, “even the Indian people are surprised” couldn’t be more apt.
Some background: It is believed that the Japanese were first exposed to curry as a food during the Meiji Period when Japan opened its doors not only to foreign trade and culture but also to new types of food, making it a time when the country as well as the people’s values began to change dramatically. At first, it was considered a form of high-class cuisine called “rice curry,” and was served at hotels catering to foreigners or on boats that carried them to and from Japan. From there it spread gradually to the local restaurants of the common people. Also, being a food with good nutritional balance that was relatively easy to prepare and preserve, it was adopted on the menu for the military and subsequently spread nationwide as soldiers and seamen returned from service to their hometowns in prefectures throughout the country. Read more After World War II, the fancy “rice curry” began to change into “curry rice” when it joined the menu of school lunches and became a national food of the people. Then it joined the list of instant foods that the Japanese have a particular penchant for and skill in making (it was called sokuseki curry, or “prompt curry” at the time). This sparked the “curry wars” among the makers and brought the meal into the home on a growing scale. Good proof of the intensity of the competition between the companies was even heard on the streets at one time when everyone was using the catchphrases from the rivaling curry TV commercials in daily conversation.
Thanks to Sabouru (Coffee shop Sabor)