Are you a curry fan? In the Land of The Rising Sun, you aren’t alone. Japan is a nation of curry lovers. CoCo’s Ichibanya is the world's largest chain in Japanese curry houses, offering diners traditional (and not so traditional) flavours synonymous with the Japanese dish of choice. However, Japanese isn’t the only Asian curry you should try. Allow India to enter the fray with their offerings, and join me as the two go head to head.
This is in fact a wonderfully diverse dish. It’s served with rice, usually white, but can vary in spice level and ingredients added. Traditionally though, it contains onions, carrots, potatoes, and meat, usually pork, beef or chicken. Katsu curry is probably one of the best known; breaded and sliced meat is added to the usual base. It’s pretty good. CoCo’s has some great twists on the traditional, offering up sausage, vegetarian, and seafood varieties along with the staples. They have a variety of spice levels too, from 1 to 10, with 10 being the hottest.
Anyway, before this turns in to a restaurant review, let me refocus on the curry as a general dish. It’s brown in colour, reasonably thick, and has a hearty flavour, slightly peppery. Most places can adjust spice level, or of course this can be done at home if you cook it yourself. It’s good all year round, but especially nice as a winter warmer. It’s convivial, and fairly simple to make, in terms of ingredients used. The sauce itself usually consists of curry powder, flour, and oil, with the powder giving the curry its distinctive brown colouring.
Hideya HAMANO on Flickr
Another diverse dish. Indian curries come in all sorts of flavours, and with a variety of bases. Creamy or vegetable, mild or spicy, meat or vegetarian, you’ll definitely find a curry to suit your taste. In India, a lot of curries have lentils as their featured ingredient, due to meat being an expensive commodity to a lot of the population. However, you can still find chicken varieties. Never beef, cows are sacred. Unlike the Japanese curry which generally keeps the same base, Indian varieties use a multitude. Spices help to achieve different flavours, and more often than not, combine a mix to achieve diversity. What’s it taste like? This depends on the individual dish. But in general, Indian curries are sumptuous and bursting with flavour. Great if you love your food to have a bit of kick to it.
If you’re just dipping your toes in the Indian curry pool, allow me to recommend some great starters: Dupiaza. A tomato based curry with chopped onions and green peppers, and usually chicken, mutton, or vegetarian. It’s a medium spice level, so has enough of an effect without blowing your head off! The tomato is a strong flavour, you can taste it more than the other ingredients, but the other vegetables have soothing undertones. The way it’s cooked means the onions go soft, which I love.
Another good starter is the tikka masala. A creamier variety, packed with masala spices, and usually with chicken, mutton or vegetables. Again, fairly mild, but with a lot of flavour, so you get the experience without all of the hotness! If you do fancy a hotter curry, a Bhuna might be more suitable. However, in Japan, most places will give you an option for spice levels, so you can try pretty much any type at a level that suit your tastebuds.
How Do They Compare?
In a few ways, let’s go through the list. First, consistency. Japanese curries are almost always quite thick, compared to Indian, where some dishes can be almost soup-like. Second, variety. Japanese curries retain the same base, and usually only vary in meats and amount of spice added, whereas Indian curries come in a plethora of flavours, varying not only in main ingredients, but also spices and bases used. Third, flavour. This is a hard one to field, but let me try. Most Japanese curries have the same flavour, though of course different meats or vegetables will affect this. It’s warm, comforting, and hearty. By comparison, Indian curries are opulent, flavourful, and decadent.
Which is Best?
Such a tough call! Each have their own merits, and far be it for me to tell an individual which one they should like more! My best advice? Try them! If you have never experienced either before, now’s your chance! My personal preference is actually Indian, but I do really love a good Japanese curry too! I’m a big fan of CoCo’s weenie and cheese dish in particular, spice level 2, perfect.
Guilhem Vellut on Flickr
Do you have a preference? Which curry do you think is the winner? Why not let us know on Twitter?