If you visit one of the Soba restaurants, especially in the Kanto area of Japan, you’ll notice that there are very similar dishes on the menu, ‘Curry Rice and Curry Donburi’.
Are there any differences between these two, or is it just a matter of tableware?
Curry Donburi was a shop owner’s idea to fight against a ‘Yoshoku boom’ in Tokyo around 1910…
Creativity from a professional cook to overcome a crisis
In Japan, during the time of westernization in the Meiji period around 1900, there was a boom to savor the delicacy of a hybrid Western and Japanese style dish called ‘Yoshoku’「洋食」, which literally means, “western foods.” ‘Curry’ was one of them.
At that time, restaurant owners of authentic and traditional Japanese food faced a temporary crisis of losing their customers because of this Yoshoku popularity. However, it was Japanese creativity—and particularly that of one Japanese chef—that fought against the new wave.
In 1910, a Soba restaurant named ‘Asamatsu-an’「朝松庵」, located in Meguro city within Tokyo, adopted a curry flavor into their line-ups. The unique idea of this shop owner was to mix curry powder with ‘Soba dipping sauce,’ a bonito-flavored broth and soy sauce mixture. This soy-sauce based flavor made their curry very mild and better match their signature food; Soba noodles.
The first fusion menu item was known as ‘Curry Nanban’ 「カレー南蛮」.
‘Nanban’ means “leek imported from China.”
For more information, please check out this link: https://youtu.be/ZtbyhxjQuxQ
As you can see in this video, ‘Curry Nanban’ is prepared by using leek, pork (or chicken), curry powder, and Soba dipping sauce, a bonito-flavored broth, and soy-sauce mixture. It is one of the Japanese curries that we can savor only at Soba restaurants in Japan.
In addition, they put their curry sauce on Japanese rice.
This way, ‘Curry Don’ 「カレー丼」was born. ‘Don’ means a shortened form of ‘Donburi’, or “a bowl.” The combination with Japanese rice is one of the most important elements of successfully becoming a long-beloved menu item.
Furthermore, they added ‘Curry Rice’ to their menu.
Then, what is the difference between Curry Rice and Curry don?
Soba restaurants in Japan have played an important role as a place to eat out for ordinary people, which means they serve not only their signature foods, but other foods which would be popular for customers. Some Soba restaurants even have Ramen noodles on their menu.
Likewise, popular ‘curry rice’ also lives together in Soba restaurants in Japan.
Their ‘Curry Rice’ is prepared by using onions, pork, curry powder, salt, and water.
And used ‘plate’ to serve it as a familiar style of ‘Curry Rice’ in Japan. They don’t add ‘Soba dipping sauce’, a bonito-flavored broth and soy-sauce mixture, into their ‘Curry Rice’. That is a big difference from ‘Curry Don’. Through this process, two types of rice and curry-related menu items co-exist in Soba restaurants within the Kanto area of Japan.
Brief history of ‘Curry’ in Japan
‘Curry’ probably came to Japan from Britain, and spread out with the idea of combining it with Japanese rice. It was first called ‘Rice Curry’ 「ライスカレー」, and then the name gradually disappeared. The image of curry and rice, which was served separately, determined the new name of ‘Curry Rice’ 「カレーライス」.
Additionally, imported ‘curry powder’ has played an important role in enhancing the curry-related dish in Japan. The word ‘curry’ reminds us of ‘India’, but the Japanese style is fairly different from Indian cuisine. And now, possibilities created by Japanese chefs always amaze and entertain us and keep attracting people from abroad.
How to make Original Indian Spice and Herb dishes from scratch.
Please check out this link: https://youtu.be/jwyge5daKUQ
How to make ‘Curry Rice with S&B GOLDEN CURRY JAPANESE CURRY MIX.
Please check out this link: https://youtu.be/e_WS-GqHpu8
‘Japanese Curry’ is full of variations which entertain not only Japanese people, but also people who visit and stay in Japan. Among those curry dishes, Curry Rice and Curry Don still remain together on the menus of many Soba restaurants, and keep entertaining people who visit there. They have been quite original.
That is an amazing and honored fact which I would like to share with many people.
National Tour Guide (English), Eiken Grade 1, TOEIC A rank. Have been studying and teaching English for over 30 years.