By YUKA NISHIMOTO/ Staff Writer
September 19, 2021 at 08:00 JST
The L Cutlet Curry plate, served at the Kudan Sanbancho outlet of Champion’s Curry, comes with a fork, not a spoon, with “fukujinzuke” pickled veggies prepared in a covered container on a table. (Yuka Nishimoto)
Curry fans searching for something different need look no further than Ishikawa Prefecture, home to Japan’s Kanazawa-style curry, which local chefs don’t shy away from touting as the curry to beat all curries.
“This is delicious!” a customer exclaims, after tucking into some Kanazawa curry. Chef Yasuyuki Ota, not missing a beat, merely confirms, “Indeed it is.”
“The curry boasts a classic taste so you’ll never get tired of it even if you eat it every day,” says Ota, who manages Champion’s Curry’s Kudan Sanbancho outlet in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. “Most of our customers are regulars.”
The curry, which is named in tribute after Ishikawa Prefecture’s capital and is standard fare for locals, is a combination of a “tonkatsu teishoku” deep-fried pork cutlet, julienned cabbage and rice with sticky curry.
It arrives at one’s table served on a stainless steel plate with a fork or spork. This is the style of Ishikawa Prefecture in central Japan.
But perhaps the secret of the curry’s success lies in keeping it simple.
“This is exactly the concept,” says Yoshiko Takakuwa, a sales representative in Champion’s Curry’s sales promotion department in Ishikawa Prefecture’s Nonoichi.
“Our founder, Yoshikazu Tanaka, who invented the curry with the unique features around 60 years ago, was a Western-style chef,” she says.
When he was 16, Tanaka, whose father was a chef specializing in Japanese cuisine, headed for Tokyo to study Western-style cooking, according to Champion’s Curry.
After returning to the Hokuriku region, he worked as a chef and in other positions at many restaurants and hotels.
Tanaka reportedly opened his own eatery, called Yoshoku Tanaka (Western-style cuisines Tanaka), in 1961, the predecessor of today’s chain of Champion’s Curry.
“Our current style of curry had been established by 1963 at the latest,” Takakuwa says. “As a Western-style cook, he (Tanaka) put together the whole set meal popular at his restaurant--a pork cutlet garnished with cabbage--on curry, marking the starting point for the food.”
Since pork available in the market at the time was tough, the restaurant served it with a fork so customers could pierce it more easily. The idea also allegedly resulted from Tanaka’s experience of working in the Western-style cuisine industry.
“Since the roux is thick, it doesn’t really spill out,” Takakuwa says. Customers of some Champion’s Curry outlets who order the curry for takeout will find it comes with chopsticks, she adds.
NO LONGER AN INSIDE THING
The Kanazawa curry boom ignited in 2004, when the first store of Go Go Curry, a curry chain based in Tokyo, opened in the capital’s Shinjuku Ward. Now there’s hardly a place one can go in Japan where the curry isn’t well known.
The main offering at the Kudan Sanbancho outlet of Champion’s Curry, the L Cutlet Curry plate, is served with sauce for tonkatsu (pork cutlet) on the table. Pouring a lot of sauce onto pork, even those trying Kanazawa curry for the first time may find it somehow comforting and familiar.
The aroma of the curry is rich but not oppressively so. As the dish is not very hot, diners can savor the complex elements present in its flavor.
Though what’s on your plate is a product of tradition, there are no rules for how you eat it. That cabbage on the side? It’s up to you how to scarf it down with the pork and rice.
You can also add salt to the cabbage from a bottle set on the table, or if mayonnaise is your thing, all you have to do is ask the staff and they’ll provide it as well.
One option is to scoop some curry-covered rice and thin strips of cabbage into your mouth side by side and eat pork cutlet. That way, you get the best of worlds, tasting the crispness of the cabbage, which simultaneously makes each bite of spicy curry a bit milder as its sweetness unfurls.
The fresh raw cabbage also has the bonus of washing away oil from the pork cutlet, which will make you feel like one you might just have room left to soon eat another plate of Kanazawa curry.
Once you’ve tried eating pork cutlet curry that way, you may find yourself regularly ordering it with shredded cabbage in honor of the Kanazawa-derived specialty.
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