The key for me with Japanese curry is cold: either I’ve got to have one, or it’s got to be that way outside. Or, as is the case today, both. As I sniffed and sniffled my way through my daily “what should I have for lunch?” routine, I realized that what I really, truly, deeply want is a pork cutlet, breaded and deep-fried, served to me over a fluffy dome of rice, all coated in a thick, spicy golden sauce.
I’ve taken snot-nosed comfort in Japanese curry since I was a wee one, but after the New York Times blew the lid off this dish (calling it “Japan’s chili, its bacon cheeseburger, its meatloaf and gravy all in one, a hangover-killing man meal found in bars and restaurants up and down the country narrow, never as good as Mom’s”) I had that feeling you get when the band you’ve championed tirelessly all these years finally signs a major-label deal — a juicy mixture of excitement, smugness, resentment, and regret.
The thing is, it’s an easy sell — the only strange thing here is that it’s taken this long to hit the mainstream. What makes Japanese curry sauce special is that it’s hot, sweet, and meaty. This isn’t your soupy, coconutty, chili-addled Thai sauce, or your yogurt-thickened Indian stew. Instead, you start with a roux — a nutty combination of thickening flour and creamy butter. To that base gets added, in idiosyncratic order and proportion, aromatics like onion and garlic, sweeteners like pureed fruit or honey or ketchup, the vital curry powder (preferably the Japanese brand S&B;) and — this is the real kicker — meat. Ground beef, minced uncured pork belly, whatever you’ve got on hand. It goes in the sauce. Which is then poured over another type of meat. Which, if it’s katsu, is generally deep-fried.
It’s heaven. It’s beyond heaven. It blows almost every other variety of comfort food out of the water. And, as it happens, you can have some too! It’s on the menu at these illustrious joints:
There’s an entire portion of the menu devoted to curries here: Karashiyaki. All you have to do is pick your meat.
Hama Matsu [MenuPages]
For curry the quick-n-dirty way (as it should be), head to Lincolnwood for this super-authentic Tokyo-style version.
Renga Tei [TOC]