In terms of latitude, Japan is an extremely long country, ranging through diverse climates from north to south. It should be no surprise then that regional cuisine varies widely depending on the local food sources available. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in Japan’s regional curries.
Curry in Japan is in fact more similar to Western-style curries than those of India or Thailand. Unlike many Eastern curry styles, Japanese curry is so mild that it’s often the meal of choice for children. People make Japanese curry with roux, a sauce thickener traditional in Western cooking. At times, Japanese curry also incorporates sweet ingredients, like fruit, rather than strictly savory components (although it also has its fair share of that, too).
A ubiquitous dish in Japanese cuisine, sweet and soupy Japanese curry has many varieties to suit nearly every area of Japan, from the northernmost Hokkaido all the way down to the islands of Okinawa. From oyster and squid to pear and bitter melon, these five curries are exemplary of Japan’s extensive variety of local cuisines.
Hokkaido Shika Deer Curry
Historically, the northern prefecture of Hokkaido has had a high population of shika deer. Perhaps it will be no surprise then that instead of classic curry meats such as beef, chicken or pork, Hokkaido curry sometimes utilizes venison as a key component. Hokkaido deer curry is not a staple like other regional curries, but it is a good example of chefs taking advantage of prevalent fauna in the region.
Echizen Ika Curry
In coastal Echizen, located in the Fukui prefecture next to the Sea of Japan, seafood reigns. Ika, squid or cuttlefish in English, is abundant. Naturally, this seafood takes its place at the table in many forms. Chewy and somewhat sweet, ika can be boiled, fried, smoked or used in sushi. And, of course, it is also a key element of Echizen’s signature curry.
Tottori Pear Curry
Further to the southwest, in the Tottori prefecture, agriculture rules. The region is especially famous for its nashi pears, which are widely used in everything from soy sauce to jam and, yes, even curry. Tottori pear curry is the proprietary creation of a century-old pear farm. Their famous recipe includes the usual ingredients, all grated instead of chopped, with a twist: nashi pears. Today, one must purchase the curry from the farm in Tottori. The farm recommends to eat this curry with bread or with salad as dressing because of its sweetness.
Hiroshima Oyster Curry
Hiroshima, meanwhile, is famous for being an oyster mecca in Japan. In this prefecture, oysters are served raw, grilled, deep fried, vinegared — pretty much any method you can think of. One particularly unique dish is Hiroshima oyster curry. It incorporates milk, butter, and coconut into a sauce that’s much creamier than the standard Japanese curry.
Okinawa Bitter Melon Curry
Popular in the southern islands of Okinawa, Japanese bitter melon is a green, oblong vegetable also known as goya. Sometimes deemed a superfood for its nutritive benefits, it can be eaten by itself, but is often used in stir fries, as well as curry. Because goya tastes extremely bitter, as the name implies, the curry also features pineapple and brown sugar (kokuto). Pineapples and kokuto are both equally famous products form Okinawa. They temper the intense flavor of the goya melon.
Although the regional curries of Japan extend far beyond this list, this is a great starting point to begin exploring some less commonly known aspects of Japanese cuisine. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and taste all the curries Japan has to offer!