What comes to your mind when you think of curry? India, fragrant spices and herbs, luscious sauce… Well, hold that thought because Japan has its own curry to boast with. Yes, you read it right, there is such thing as Japanese curry ((カレーライス – karei raisu) which in fact is immensely popular and has become a staple of the Japanese home that is enjoyed by people of all ages. Like many foods in Japan, curry worked its way into the Japanese culinary repertoire from abroad. The prevailing theory is that British traders introduced curry powder to Japan at the start of the Meiji Era (1867-1912). Impressed by how nicely curry could be paired with white rice, the local cooks reinvented the classic recipe to suit Japanese tastes and ingredients by using new spice blends and the addition of familiar meats and vegetables.
Thus curry has been changed and adapted so much that it now stands on its own as something uniquely Japanese. Various eateries offer inventive curry dishes like karē udon (udon noodles in curry-flavored soup), karē nanban (soba noodles in curry-flavored soup) and karē pan (dough stuffed with curry paste, breaded and deep-fried). In addition, food companies introduced “instant” curry mixes which are now available in any grocery store and as popular as cup noodles.
I am a big fan of curry, especially during winter times. There is something comforting about its scrumptious roux and it never fails to hit the spot. Naturally, I was intrigued to try the Japanese version and luckily I found just the right place for it last week. While perusing narrow alleys Jiyugaoka (Tokyo’s absolutely off-beat yet incredibly charming neighborhood which I promise to blog about soon) I came across rather quaint café which stroke me with its funky décor. You have option to enjoy your meal al fresco at the outside tables, but since January chill was still prevailing in the air I decided to go inside. Rustic theme prevailed via wooden panels, brick floors, vintage light fixtures, wooden tables and chairs created very homely and comfortable space. Although I must say it felt a bit cramped. I was greeted by a young server while another one was fussing behind the counter teamed up with a lady. I assumed it was a family-run café. Menu featured a few salads, one variety of curry and some other snacks like sandwiches and salads, plus coffee and tea. I put an order for a curry lunch set as well as matcha tea set to follow for a dessert. Soon enough I was served my lunch. A fresh salad with fish roe and sweet sesame dressing was a great light appetizer. I was also served pickled vegetables on the side. A beautiful bowl of piping hot beef rice curry followed next. The presentation was beautiful and the delicious aroma from the of savory brown curry was intoxicating. The beef, although scarce in quantity, was beautifully cooked with that ideal melt-in-your-mouth texture, while the sauce was luscious and moderately spicy, definitely not as strong or spicy as authentic Indian curries. It was also much thicker and had a milder flavor than its Indian counterpart. Nevertheless it was delicious and kept me coming for more. I loved the variety of cooked vegetables in the stew: shiitake mushrooms, carrots, potatoes. Rice was also cooked just right, and topped with that beautiful slice of hard-boiled egg. The pickles on the side seemed to balance out the piquant flavors of the curry very well. Overall, my curry was flavorful, hearty, and homey all in one.
To finish off my scrumptious afternoon meal I indulged in a large bowl of matcha tea paired with delightful wagashi. My tea was flavorful and creamy with mild bitterness which contrasted so well with the sweetness of wagashi. I am a huge fan of these exquisitely handcrafted morsels, and plan to tell you all about their cultural significance in the nearest edition of 50 Shades of Tokyo Desserts.
Overall, I cannot vouch it was the best Japanese curry I have ever had, but I did quite enjoy my lunch in Cha No Ko. My experience was further elevated by incredibly friendly staff and the good service they provided. I just wish they had more variety on the menu. I now feel inspired enough to dive into the world of Japanese curry and scout out other places around town to sample different varieties of this soul warming dish.
- Address: 5-26-12 Okusawa Setagaya, Jiyugaoka, Tokyo
- Web-site: http://www.chanokocoffee.com/