Sitting down to write this, I had a realization that throughout my life and my time in Japan, I have eaten a LOT of Japanese curry. I just love it. Perhaps the fact is not that surprising as it’s one of the most popular dishes in the country due to its appeal to both adults and kids.
I tend to live life by my three favorite foods of “eggs, cheese, and curry” (but not all at the same time), so I genuinely believe that learning how to make Japanese curry is a great skill if you like to dabble in Japanese home cooking.
Read on to find out all about its history and ingredients, and how to make Japanese curry aka curry rice (kare raisu) for yourself!
What is Japanese Curry?
The ultimate comfort food in Japan, Japanese curry is classified as yoshoku, or Western-style Japanese food. Derived from the English word "curry," the katakana loan word of kare in Japanese refers to both Japanese curry and curries from other countries.
Kare rice (meaning "curry rice") is synonymous with Japanese curry. This dish consists of a rich gravy made from a blend of curry powder (conveniently sold as boxed curry roux), typically mixed with classic ingredients like beef, onion, carrots, and potatoes, best served over warm rice.
Curry powder was introduced to Japan via the British in the late 1800s but really gained popularity during the 1950s. The sauce was dubbed "roux" after the foreign influence of French cuisine. In comparison to Indian or Thai curries, Japanese curry is much sweeter in flavor and milder in spiciness, more fitting for the Japanese palate.
Curry roux can easily be made from scratch or by using instant curry sauce mixes. Invented during the late 1950s, these Japanese curry roux packets have the gravy in pre-made blocks, ready to dissolve in water for easy home-cooking. Japanese curry is known for being a quick and easy meal that everyone in the family will enjoy.
While kare raisu is the most popular dish, kare udon (curry udon) is another delicious Japanese version of curry with udon noodles swimming in rich brown curry sauce.
Another way you can eat Japanese curry is in one of my favorite snacks for when I am on the go: kare pan, meaning "curry bread." This is a delicious deep-fried bun filled with curry! It is one of the most typical ways you will find Japanese curry, which you can pick up from bakeries and convenience stores easily.
If you’re heading to Japan, why not learn how to make this easy classic Japanese dish during a hands-on cooking class? Book a Japanese curry cooking class in Japan to make Japanese curry with the help of an expert cooking instructor.
Japanese Curry Ingredients
Japanese curry recipes can actually be very diverse. Additional ingredients like vegetables and meat are up to you, just add a chicken cutlet for Japanese chicken curry or a slab of tonkatsu for katsu curry, but to create your own home-style Japanese curry rice you will need these basics:
- Instant curry roux (popular brands include Golden Curry from S&B Foods or House Vermont Curry)
- Water or stock
- Soy sauce
- Rice (or udon, if you prefer noodles)
- Fukujinzuke (Japanese pickles, to serve on the side)
If you want to jazz up your Japanese curry, you can try to add some of these ingredients to evolve that rich savory curry sauce into a more unique variation of Japanese curry.
- Ketchup (we will use it in our curry recipe)
- Oyster sauce
- Red wine or sake
- Soy sauce
- Chocolate (to give the curry a sweeter, more intense flavor)
- Grated apple
If you don't have a block of curry roux handy or you want to make curry roux from scratch, you will need:
- Plain flour
- Curry powder
- Garam masala
- Cayenne pepper (if you want it spicy, or some "ichimi togarashi" chili powder)
How to Make Japanese Curry
Let’s get to it! This easy recipe for Japanese curry uses instant curry roux, available at most Asian supermarkets and some basic grocery stores.
- Prepare your meat and vegetables. Trim the fat off your meat and cut it into chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Cut your potatoes and carrots into rough chunks (rotate your carrot a quarter after cutting each piece to make the pieces "rangiri" style). Cut your onions into wedges, grate the fresh ginger, and crush or finely cut the garlic.
- Sauté the onions in a large pot over medium heat. Once the onions become translucent, add in the garlic and ginger and meat, cooking until the meat changes color. (Particularly if you are using meat like beef, some people like to brown the meat as the first step, but you don’t have to.)
- Add in the chopped carrots and water or stock and bring to a boil. At this stage, you can remove any excess fat or bubbles that rise to the top. Add in the potatoes and boil gently until soft.
- Time to add the curry roux. For a big pot, use one or 2 blocks of instant curry roux (or to taste). Refer to the box instructions for exact measurements. Use a ladle to hold some of the soup, and gently dissolve the instant curry in the ladle before mixing it through the curry thoroughly.
- Add some soy sauce and ketchup (if you are using it) or any other additional flavors. Slowly simmer the curry until the sauce thickens, then the curry is ready!
- Serve up your curry with steamed rice or udon, plus red pickles on the side. A soft-boiled egg is a delicious addition if you can add it. Itadakimasu!
How to Make Homemade Japanese Curry Roux
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan. Add 4 tablespoons of flour and heat it gently in the pan until the roux thickens. Add one tablespoon of curry powder and garam masala each plus chili powder if you are using it.
How to Personalize Your Curry
The beauty of Japanese curry is that it pairs well with so many other delicious Japanese food toppings. Plenty of fast food curry restaurants offer topping combinations like karaage (fried chicken), all kinds of local vegetables, and even cheese. My personal favorite is katsu-kare (katsu curry), which is Japanese curry served with delicious tonkatsu, deep-fried pork cutlet! As it's one of my other favorite foods, I also quite like to have a soft onsen egg on top, as well.
Different areas throughout Japan have their own specialty curry recipes. For example, to really amp it up a notch, Hokkaido is famous for its spicy variation of soup curry. Full of delicious spices, local vegetables, and sometimes tender lamb pieces, it's a dish you shouldn’t miss if you’re visiting! Black pork curry from Kagoshima or oyster curry from Hiroshima are also some local variations of Japanese curry worth trying.
So there you have it! Japanese curry rice: worthy of its own emoji. This delicious Western-style yoshoku dish has wiggled its way into the hearts and tummies of people throughout Japan, thanks to British curry powder. Filling and hearty, everyone should learn how to make Japanese curry because it is so simple, delicious, and comforting.
Make your own variation of Japanese curry with a simple Japanese ingredient substitution, from swapping in a crispy cutlet for katsu curry to mixing in chopped apple for a sweet and tangy version, to adding meat for a hearty Japanese beef curry dish. New curry eaters and veterans alike will never get bored of the national home cooking dish of Japan!
Looking for more Japanese recipes to try out at home? Check out these 10 Japanese food bloggers!