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The Delicious World of Japanese Curry Rice

August 22, 2016

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The Fascinating Origins of Japanese Curry Rice

Japanese curry rice has an interesting background: it came from England, and was introduced to the Japanese navy in the 1870s. At the time, the Japanese navy was modeling itself on the British navy, and serving curry to sailors was part of the package. Eating meat was still rare in those days, but in order to help sailors gain muscle weight, curry was used to cover up the smell of meat, therefore making it more enjoyable for them.

The city of Yokosuka, located near Tokyo, is home to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force base and is known as the birthplace of Japanese curry. Old recipe books from the navy show how carrots, potatoes and onions were established as the base for Japanese curry rice. Now, every Friday the cafeteria serves curry rice for lunch, based on a tradition that has been around for over a hundred years. In the olden days of the navy, curry was served once a week. This custom helped the sailors keep their sense of days when they were at sea. Nowadays, many visitors go to Yokosuka to sample their famed navy curry, served in several establishments around the city.

While curry was only made available to the Japanese navy in the late 1800s, things changed completely in the early decades of the 20th century, years characterized by a growing interest for restaurants serving Western-style fare. During that time, a department store based in Osaka started serving affordable curry and rice at half the price of restaurants, and thousands of customers would make their way there daily. As a result, curry was now accessible to the public.

In those days, curry was only prepared by professional chefs, as it was too elaborate to cook at home for families. However, when instant curry roux was introduced in the 1950s, it completely changed the industry. The pre-cooked, pre-mixed cubes allowed anyone to prepare curry by just melting the roux into the stew for a rich flavor. The versatility of curry roux made it an instant hit, and production spiked. Nowadays, the Japanese market for curry roux is worth over 20 billion yen and the product is exported to the many other countries around the world.