It’s probably not the first thing you think of, but if you ask me Japan’s true national dish is curry. Japanese people are crazy for the stuff: it’s served constantly, both at home and in restaurants. I think it has a good claim to be Japan’s best-loved dish.
Of course, curry isn’t from Japan. As everybody knows, curry is originally Indian, but the dish came to Japan in the late 19th century through the colonial route, via Britain. This may explain why compared to Indian curry, Japanese curry is usually quite mild, sweet even, and certainly never very spicy.
I’ve met some Canadians who are really into Japanese culture, and they all complained that whenever Japanese people invited them for dinner, they made curry! It’s easy to understand why they run into it so often at parties: this dish scales up very well, so it’s ideal for big gatherings, parties, and the like. And since everyone in Japan loves the stuff, it’s very often served to guests. (In honor of this, the recipe below is for 20 people!)
I’ll admit it: Westerners sometimes fail to see the point of Japanese curry. I can see why. If you’re used to Indian food, our way of making it could strike you as a little unexciting. I’ve come to the conclusion this is one of those dishes that divides cultures more than it brings them together: almost everyone in Japan loves Japanese style curry but reactions abroad are more mixed.
Ingredients (serves 20)
- Beef (or chicken or pork) – 1 kg.
Alternatively, you could make it with a seafood mix.
- Onions – five medium ones. (Using lots of onions is the secret to great curry.)
- Carrots – two-three medium
- Tomatoes – five or six ripe ones (canned is ok)
- Potatoes – three or four (If you like, you can use more)
- Garlic – two cloves
- Broth – two cubes
- Cooking oil – 6 tablespoons
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Your favorite Japanese brand of curry sauce mix – 1.5 entire packs
In Japan, most families mix different brands, to their taste! You can keep the sauce mix in the frige for a long time, so even if you need less than one pack, it’s ok to open two packs.
For this dinner, we also added:
- Pumpkin – one small one
- Bell peppers – three
- Mushrooms – one pack
It’s also popular to add
- Ground Meat
To enrich the taste, Japanese people have been known to put in a little bit of:
- Honey (a popular choice)
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Chocolate (yes, really!)
- Hot dogs (some families’ curry recipes are out of control!)
- Red wine (quite a common one)
- Laurel leaves
Some toppings people have been known to add at the table
- Fried Okra
- Processed cheese (!)
All of which gets served over
- Cube the meat
- Chop the carrots into random, irregular chunks
- Julienne the onions
- Chop and crush the garlic
- Peel the tomatoes (by boiling them for 60 seconds then pulling off the skin) and get rid of the seeds
- Chop the rest of the vegetables into largish chunks
- In a very big casserole, heat a little bit of oil and brown the garlic
- Brown the onions over medium heat, stirring until they become translucent
- Add the meat and brown it
- Add the vegetables and the stock cubes, season with salt and papper
- Cover with water, bring to a boil
- Cook everything thoroughly for several hours, skimming off any scum that rises using a slotted spoon
- Separately, cook white rice.
- Add curry mix to the stewing pot
Every Japanese family has its favorite mix of two or more brands of curry sauce: experiment until you find the one you like.
- Let curry cook for at least another half an hour. The longer you cook it, the better it tastes.
You could serve everything at this point, but, for best results
Let everything cool down and sit there for a couple of hours. Warm up again. Then serve.
The other night, we enjoyed curry as a family meal at my brother-in-law’s house. This recipe easily fed 11 people and there was quite a lot left over. Thankfully, Japanese curry freezes well.