Beware—not all curry are the same! Those who may be used to the spicy, exciting and exhilarating flavors of Indian curry may be underwhelmed by the sweet gentleness of Japanese curry.
Fans of Japanese curry, meanwhile, might get the shock of their lives once they taste the bombastic and extremely hot curry dishes of traditional Indian culture.
It’s funny but both types of curry originate from one source. The word “curry” is from the Tamil word “kari” which originated in India and Sri Lanka. Thus, for curry purists, India could be considered the genuine home of curry.
However, curry connoisseurs would agree that there is a whole wide world of curry that is equally delicious and worth exploring. But first, how did we ever end up with stuff like Japanese curry?
The adventures of curry
The curry dish is generally characterized by the use of a mixture of spices and herbs, and evidence of such practice was discovered as far back as 2,600 BC in areas such as Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan. Also consider that black pepper, which is native to South Asia, has been used in Indian cuisine since 2,000 BC.
Scholars have also discovered the mention of a recipe in the oldest surviving cookbook from the Roman empire detailing the use of meats seasoned with ingredients such as vinegar and honey, and spices such as pepper, cumin, mint, coriander and many others.
The prominence of one of the greatest civilizations on earth during the 16th century, the Mughal Empire, along with major geographical trade achievements such as the creation of a Portuguese trading port in Goa, could be considered a turning point of curry further evolving and spreading all over the world. It is because of cross-cultural trade, for instance, that the now popular chili peppers were brought from the Americas to India.
By the 17th century, English cuisine had caught on to the concept of cooking meats in spicy sauce, and because of British colonization of many countries and cultures around the world, it subsequently spread as well. In the Caribbean islands, for instance, Indian workers were usually brought in and they also began cooking their native curry dishes, thus propagating them locally.
Curry finally reached Japanese shores thanks to the British as well, during the Meiji period in the 19th century. As time passed by, the Japanese naturally developed their own taste and way of cooking curry.
Some like it hot
So what are the differences between Japanese curry and Indian curry? While both share the same characteristics of using spices and herb mixtures, rich tasty sauces as well as meats, there are a few distinctions between each one of them.
For one, Japanese curry in general is milder. You could say that Japanese curry is a good way of introducing a newbie to the world of curry. Japanese cuisine uses curry powder in a basic sauce, while Indian curry is more adventurous and diverse in its mix of spices. You can find cumin, paprika, turmeric and many more types of ingredients in India curry. Thus, Indian curry sauces could also be considered being more thick, rich and hearty.
What’s in your curry?
In terms of protein, you can find meats such as pork or chicken in both Japanese and Indian curry. Beef is also used in Japanese curry, but never in Indian curry due to their religious practices. Instead, they use mutton or lamb. For vegetarians, they may find more viable options in Indian curry, such as lentils. There are a lot of hearty and filling Indian curry recipes that use vegetables as their only ingredients.
Both Japanese and Indian cultures also consider rice as a staple, but it is the more popular carbohydrate in Japanese curry. In fact, the Japanese came up with the concept of curry topped on rice in a bowl. “Katsu curry” is a popular dish among restaurants and even fast food establishments in Japan. It consists of Japanese breaded pork chop called katsudon on top of a bowl of rice, with rich curry sauce.
Since Japanese rice is characteristically sticky, it makes a good pairing with saucy curry.
In India, roti or local flatbread is more preferred, but curry is also enjoyed with Jasmine or Basmati rice, which are very fragrant and delectable types of local rice. Some Indian curry dishes are even eaten with both bread and rice.
Japanese or Indian?
It would definitely not be fair to pit Japanese curry against Indian curry, as every individual has their own preference and taste. It is not a question of which is better than the other, but what you prefer. Why don’t you try both and see for yourself?
Here are quick and simple recipes for Japanese curry and Indian curry that you can try to satisfy your curiosity.
Japanese Curry Rice
This is a great way to enjoy Japanese curry at home. It is a whole meal unto itself, with complete ingredients such as meats and carbohydrates as well as vegetables. This is a quintessential Japanese curry dish that everyone can enjoy.
- In a deep pan, heat about a tablespoon of cooking oil on medium heat. Saute 1 pound of meat (either pork, beef or chicken) along with cubed vegetables—onions, carrots and potatoes.
- Add a cup of water to the pan and allow to boil. Afterward, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for at least 40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare around 3 cups of soup. You may use stock or create one using chicken and beef bouillon cubes.
- In a separate pan, heat around 2 tablespoons of butter and saute some thinly sliced onions until golden. Next, saute a teaspoon each of grated garlic and grated ginger. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and 1 tablespoon of curry powder into the mixture.
- Slowly add the soup into the pan, stirring it in little by little. Allow to simmer until it thickens. Then, mix in around half a teaspoon of garam masala mixture (this can be store-bought or made from scratch).
- Now, add the curry sauce to the meat and vegetables. No need to drain the water as it also contains its own flavors that will enhance the dish. Stir and let it simmer for another 10 minutes or so.
- Finally, add salt to taste and serve together with hot, steaming Japanese rice.
Indian Chicken Curry
This is a simple yet hearty way of getting into Indian cuisine at home. Its variety of flavors will definitely excite the taste buds! The mixture of spices is something that one can get used to. You can adjust the level of spiciness to your own taste as you go along.
- Prep 2 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts with salt.
- Heat around half a cup of cooking oil in a large, deep skillet and brown the chicken breasts (do not overcook).
- After removing the chicken, saute in the pan 1 and a half cups of chopped onions, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 and a half teaspoons of minced fresh garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent.
- Next, stir in the spices: 1 tablespoon curry powder, and around a teaspoon each of cumin, turmeric, coriander and cayenne pepper. Add a tablespoon of water into the mixture.
- Mix in a can of crushed tomatoes, around a cup of plain yogurt, a tablespoon of chopped, fresh cilantro and a teaspoon of salt to taste.
- Bring back in the chicken and pour half a cup of water, bringing everything to a boil. Make sure to turn the chicken to coat them with the mixture well.
- Sprinkle a teaspoon of garam masala spice mixture and some more cilantro and simmer until the chicken is done.
- Sprinkle with some lemon juice if preferred, and serve with hot Jasmine or Basmati rice, or naan bread.
Garam Masala Mixture
As you may have noticed, garam masala is a standard mixture of spices used in both Japanese and Indian curries. You might want to make one yourself and adjust some ingredients to come up with your own preferred level of spiciness or flavor.
Making your own garam masala is easy, just combine the following ingredients in a bowl:
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
You can keep this in an airtight container for easy use whenever cooking curry.
Curry for al
Whether Japanese or Indian, curry is a wonderful type of dish for its richness. Many people have not tried curry at all because they know that it is a traditionally spicy dish. Don’t be afraid to try curry because you can easily ask the chef to tone down the spiciness if you wish. You would rarely find a restaurant that would not grant your request as much as possible. Or, cook these dishes yourself at home and experiment with the flavors and spices that you are comfortable with.
With food, it is sometimes not a question of choosing one over the other. You might as well end up liking both Japanese and Indian curry for their own unique flavors!