If you surveyed a group of kids, what do you think would be the all time favorite food? Or to put it another way, if you were holding an event for a lot of people what would you make that everyone liked, that could serve a hundred or more? The answer to both questions if you live in Japan is curry rice!
This seems strange to me since in general Japanese food is rather delicate and bland. But it's true that Japanese curry rice is very popular and I have always loved it. Almost anywhere you go, to bazaars, to cook outs, to festivals etc. there will be a curry rice booth and the supermarkets sell at least 20 different types of curry "blocks" to suit the different tastes. I have loads of memories dealing with curry.
Japanese curry is very different from true Indian or Thai curry. Basically what you do to make it is fry up some onions and meat, add water and carrots and potatoes. Simmer til soft and then add the curry block which contains all the flavorings and thickeners. (It looks like a large chocolate bar!) Then serve over rice. A fairly simple meal that just means peeling vegetables and cutting them up. Japanese curry is very thick which I think is the biggest difference from authentic curries.
For all this simplicity, I remember one time when I was on a committee to make curry rice for the kindergarten bazaar. It seemed a simple job. Buy the ingredients cut them up, boil them awhile and add the block. But it turned out there were connoisseurs of curry in the group and a few mothers had their own curry idiosyncrasies. Someone insisted you must use pork and sliced pork at that, no cubes. Someone wanted chicken, some felt the meat had to marinate. Then the way you cut vegetables. No slice or cubed carrots please, they had to be random cut so as to expose as much of a cutting edge as possible! And heaven forbid if you added potatoes at the same time as the carrots! Then there is the all time favorite in Japanese cooking of skimming off the foam from simmered dishes. (My mother was never much of a cook so I don't know if I just wasn't raised right or if this is just not an American custom.) You must spend 30 minutes (no less!) skimming off the offensive foam before adding the curry block and don't tell me you are barbarian enough to forgo the careful shaving of the block and just throw it into the pot! I truly felt at the end of the bazaar, that a lot of friendships went down the drain because of the snide remarks made about other people's way of making curry!
Another memory of curry. When the kids were little we used to go camping with a tent and make a little campfire at a campground. It seemed that all the families, ours included, had to make curry for dinner. True, I said in the above paragraph that curry is easy to make, but that's when you have a kitchen! I can't think of a more complicated dish to make at the campground! No running water to wash vegetables or at most a trickle from the campground faucet! You had to carry with you a large knife, a cutting board, sometimes your own water, of course meat and vegetables and curry, and for heaven's sake don't forget the rice that has to be cooked (not burned by the way) over the campfire in another pot! Paper plates won't hold the soupiness nor the weight of the dish to begin with so you needed bowls and spoons and then for clean-up, scrub brushes to wash the messy inside of the pot, the burned (rats! I over timed it again!) rice pot and of course all the soot off the bottom of the pots. What a circus! Why didn't we just bring hot dogs and buns?! But that's not what you do at a Japanese campground. You make curry. It was always a tortuous time for me.
A couple of days ago I made biryani from Shelina's recipe. I'm not sure what it was supposed to taste like but it turned out quite nicely. Sort of like a thick curry. Definitely more work than if I'd gone to the supermarket and bought the block, but it seemed more authentic than Japanese curry to me. I added canned tomatoes rather than fresh. I never found cilantro, coriander, mint or saffron. I added eggplant to mine. It must have been good because Tetsu ate two meals of it and besides the comment that the rice was different (I'd added star anise and cinnamon which I don't think he expected) he seemed to like it a lot. Sometime when I'm not rushed for time, I think I may do this again instead of Japanese curry.
"Gochisousama deshita!" ("Thank you for the delicious meal!")