Take a guess at which country considers curry a national dish. No, seriously, give it a shot.
India? Logical, but no.
Pakistan? Also a good guess, but not quite.
Would you believe that Japan considers curry its national dish? Yes, really. It beat out sushi, teriyaki, miso, and just about every other dish you would probably associate with Japan. (The jury’s still out on whether it officially beats ramen, but the two dishes are very, very close in that race.) Seriously, how did that happen?
Curry was first introduced to Japan in the late 19th century, most likely by Indian officers of the Royal Navy of the British Empire. It started gaining popularity after the Japanese Navy and Army began serving the dish to its troops, and quickly became a favorite delicacy in the Japanese diet. Once instant curry blocks became available in the 1950s, the time constraints of slow cooking were gone and the popularity of the dish skyrocketed.
Japanese curry is considered yōshoku, a Western dish that has been reinvented to suit Japanese tastes and ingredients. Unlike the typically hot and spicy Indian curries, Japanese curry is much milder with some sweet notes. (Having tried both, I would say that the Extra Hot Japanese curry blocks are about equivalent to a mild-to-medium curry at an Indian restaurant.) Many recipes incorporate apples into the sauce itself, and the carrots traditionally added in with the other vegetables lend to a pleasantly mild bite.
If you want to make your own Japanese curry from scratch, it does take a while to simmer everything together, but the results are absolutely amazing. It’s mild enough that everyone in your family can enjoy it, but there’s a depth and complexity of flavor that’s absolutely addictive. You’re going to love this!
3 TBSP butter
3 TBSP flour
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp coriander
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground anise
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup water
2 TBSP oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP fresh ginger, grated
4 cups broth (vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian; otherwise, use beef or chicken)
1/2 cup grated apple
1 bay leaf
1 TBSP salt
1 Yukon Gold potato, cut in 1/2” cubes
1 large carrot, cut in 1/2” pieces
4 oz sliced mushrooms, sautéed
4 oz tofu, cubed
In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour, then stir and cook together for 5-10 minutes, until the roux is a warm golden brown. Stir in all the spices, and cook together for another minute. Pour in 1/2 cup of water, then stir to mix it thoroughly with the roux; repeat with the remaining 1/2 cup of water, then remove roux from the heat.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion in the oil until translucent. Add in the garlic and ginger with 1 tsp of the salt, and continue cooking until fragrant. Mix in 2 cups of the broth with the roux, the grated apple, and the bay leaf; stir until the roux is fully incorporated, then add in the remaining salt, potato, carrot, mushrooms, and tofu.
Simmer uncovered for one hour. Every 15 minutes, add in another 1/2 cup of broth. (If the curry looks dry at the end of the cooking process, stir in some water, 1/4 cup at a time until you get the desired consistency.) Remove from the heat, take out the bay leaf, and serve with rice.
Serves about 6 people.