Curry and Rice (カレーライス)

Curry and rice is a Japanese food which consists of rice and a curry sauce poured over the rice.

The roots of this dish are Indian cuisine, in which foods are customarily seasoned with various spices. The dish was introduced into Japan as British food during the Meiji period when Britain had colonized India. After that, the dish has gone through unique development in Japan. The dish has been consumed by many different age groups and is now called a national food. The dish is ranked high on school lunch menus in elementary and junior high schools. Even today when ethnic foods have become common in Japan, "curry" in this country mostly refers to curry and rice. People generally eat this dish using a spoon.


Curry and rice had long been treated as Western food in Japan because it was first introduced into Japan as British food. Curry and rice in Japan today can be largely divided into three groups: European curry based on the curry style introduced into Japan first; curry in authentic Indian restaurants, which have increased rapidly after the 1990s; and original curry that was created based on these two styles. There is a theory that curry as a Western food has been greatly influenced by curry-powder-mixed stews made by the British Navy.

In the Kinki region, the standard curry is beef curry, whereas the standard in the Kanto region is pork curry. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, which are the roots of curry and rice, a vegetarian diet is the mainstream due to the influence of Hinduism and Islamism; hence, in these countries, curry dishes that use beans, vegetables, and dairy products have developed. When meat is used in these countries, chicken and mutton are mostly used, with pork and beef being minor ingredients.

Tetsuo ENDO wrote in his book, "Bukkake-meshi no Etsuraku" (The Joys of Bukkake Rice) (the title was revised to "Shirukake-meshi Kaishokugaku" (juice run meal for library) for the pocket edition), that the reason why curry and rice has become so popular is that the dish was regarded as a descendant of 'bukkake meshi' (literally meaning sloshed onto rice).

Curry sauce

In curry and rice, a sauce that is poured over rice is called a curry sauce (seasoning). An orthodox way of cooking curry sauce is to add a fried and lightly browned mixture of curry powder and flour (roux) into a pot in which vegetables and meat have been stewed, and stew them until the sauce becomes viscous. The person who came up with the idea of adding potatoes into a curry sauce is considered to be William Smith CLARK, who had been residing in Japan as a teacher at Sapporo Agricultural School. It is generally said that the idea was intended to supplement rice, of which production had often fallen short at that time. The relationship between Clark and curry and rice will be discussed in a later section.

In current Japanese households, the major method for making a curry sauce is to use 'roux,' which is a solidified mixture of ingredients such as curry powder, fat and oil, flour, and umami ingredients.

Although some people call a curry sauce 'curry roux' or 'roux,' these are not correct names and this makes it difficult to differentiate the sauce from roux in a real sense (fried flour) and solid instant curry roux as well. At Japanese-style curry restaurants, however, menus that use the term 'roux,' such as 'increased roux,' are commonly used to refer to the curry sauce.

The first instant curry roux powder was put on the market in 1926 by House Foods Corp. with the product name of 'Home Curry Powder.'
The first solid curry roux product was put on sale by S&B Foods, Inc. in 1954. In 2004, the value of shipments of household curry roux products in Japan was approximately 67.6 trillion yen. The estimated market shares in the year were approximately sixty-one percent for House Foods Corp., approximately twenty-eight percent for S&B Foods, Inc., and approximately ten percent for Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd. (data from Nikkei Inc.); thus a nearly oligopolistic market had been formed by the major three companies. Nevertheless, curry products from Oriental Co., Ltd., which ruled the age with comedian Toshiaki MINAMI's catchphrase, 'there is also hashed rice,' are also firm favorites in Nagoya.

Retort curry (a sealed plastic pouch containing ready-made curry), which can be cooked simply by boiling the pouch for five minutes, also has high popularity. As of 2007, among many retort products, retort curry products account for more than thirty percent of the total sales of retort products, the highest among such products.


Generally, no relish is used; if used, Fukujinzuke (sliced vegetables pickled in soy sauce) or scallions pickled in sweetened vinegar are garnished in general. Other than those, Napa cabbage, other pickles, raisin, or nuts may accompany the dish. The person who first devised the idea to garnish Fukujinzuke is said to be 'Sadaichi TAKISADA,' a cook who had been working on a ship of Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line) on a European run.

Curry rice with pork cutlet

Curry and rice with pork cutlet placed on them. The first curry with a topping.

Dry curry

Curry-flavored fried rice. Or, a dish which consists of rice and a nearly dry curry sauce using ground meat, which is placed on the rice.

Mixed curry and rice

Curry sauce and rice are already mixed when served. The origin is considered to be JIYUKEN, a restaurant in Osaka City.

Curry bowl

The curry sauce is made to have a Japanese flavor and made slightly viscous with katakuriko (potato starch) or a similar ingredient to give it a smooth texture, and the sauce is poured over a bowl of rice. Mentsuyu (a Japanese soup base) and a Japanese-style soup stock made with konbu (a kind of kelp) are often used. There is a wide variety of ingredients from a simple combination of Japanese leeks and chicken to a combination of typical curry ingredients.

Aigake curry

A curry sauce and another sauce (ingredients or a soup) with a ratio of one to one are poured over rice, combinations including a curry sauce and a sauce for hashed rice, and a curry sauce and ingredients for gyudon (rice covered with beef and vegetables). A different type of combination also exists, such as the even combination of a curry sauce based upon Japanese-style bouillon, a style of the period from around 1955 to 1965 represented by Jindai curry in Senboku City, Akita Prefecture, and a modern curry sauce based on demi-glace (a type of brown sauce).

Yaki curry (baked curry)

Curry and rice with a topping of raw egg, baked in an oven. This curry is considered to have been devised by Curry Honpo Co., Ltd. in Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture (patent registration No. 2691213).

Ishiyaki curry

A curry sauce poured over rice fried in a heated stone bowl as in Ishiyaki bibimbap (a Korean food served in a heated stone bowl in which rice is mixed with seasoned vegetables).

Soup curry

The origin is Sapporo City, Hokkaido. It is characterized by a watery curry sauce (soup), large pieces of vegetables, and chicken leg meat.

Local curry

From around the late 1990s, retort curry products that use as ingredients indigenous products or special products from each region of Japan started to appear one after another, forming a genre called 'gotochi curry' (local curry). Examples include ezoshika curry (Hokkaido shika (deer) curry) of Hokkaido, scallop curry of Aomori Prefecture, mackerel (esp. the chub mackerel, Scomber japonicus) curry of Chiba Prefecture, apple curry of Nagano Prefecture, Nagoya cochin chicken curry of Aichi Prefecture, Matsusaka beef curry of Mie Prefecture, oyster curry of Hiroshima Prefecture, Japanese pear curry of Shimane Prefecture, and bitter melon curry of Okinawa Prefecture. The variety has still been increasing, with special products of each and every region being employed as curry ingredients. The reason for the enthusiasm is considered to be the Internet which allows extensive picture advertising of the packages.

Yokosuka City in Kanagawa Prefecture has been making attempts to use curry as a tourist attraction by, for example, serving 'Yokosuka Navy Curry' at some restaurants in the city based on its connection to the Imperial Japanese Navy. Similar examples include Kanazawa curry of Kanazawa City in Ishikawa Prefecture, Zeppelin curry of Tsuchiura City in Ibaraki Prefecture, Furano curry of Furano City in Hokkaido, and Jindai curry of Senboku City, Akita Prefecture. These curries can be considered as a kind of local curry that aims to revitalize each town.


A famous event is the ten-yen charity curry of Matsumotoro, a restaurant located in Hibiya Park. Matsumotoro was totally destroyed by fire from fire-bottles thrown in by an extremist group in 1971. The event is held on September 25 every year as a memorial of the reconstruction of the restaurant on September 25, 1973. The sauce is a genuine pork curry sauce stewed for four days. The price is ten yen plus voluntary money of goodwill from each person. The sales are all donated to the Scholarship Foundation for Traffic Accident Orphans and UNICEF JAPAN. The term 'ten-yen curry' has been used as a season word for autumn in haiku.


In 1863, seeing Indians having a meal on a ship, Hiizu MIYAKE, Ken-o Shisetsu (Embassy to Europe) of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), wrote the following in his journal.
Something like slurry potatoes was poured over rice with thin strips of red pepper sprinkled over it, which were all then mixed and eaten with the hand.'
This is a food of an extremely dirty person.'

In 1872, rice curry was served as a meal for Horace CAPRON at the Hokkaido Development Commissioner Tokyo office.

In 1872, books that described recipes of curry and rice, 'Seiyo Ryori Shinan' (Proposed western-style menus) by Keigakudo shujin and 'Seiyo Ryori-tsu' (an authority on western cuisine) by Robun KANAGAKI, were published.

In 1876, William Smith CLARK, who had been visiting Japan as an assistant principal of Sapporo Agricultural School, stipulated a dormitory regulation that 'students must not eat rice; however, rice curry is an exception to this rule.'

In 1877, the 'Fugetsu Do,' a Western food restaurant in Tokyo, put rice curry on the menu for the first time in Japan.

In 1903, 'Imamuraya' (currenttly HACHI SHOKUHIN KK.) in Osaka manufactured and sold the first curry powder in Japan.

In 1904, 'Sanchoan,' a restaurant in Waseda, Tokyo, put curry udon (thick Japanese wheat noodles with curry soup) on the menu for the first time.

In 1906, 'Ikkando' in Kanda (Chiyoda Ward), Tokyo, put the first instant curry roux 'curry rice no tane' (secret of curry rice) on the market.

In 1908, a recipe for curry and rice was described in 'Kaigun Kappojutsu Sankosho' (reference book for navy cooking technique), which was distributed by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

In 1910, a recipe for curry and rice (karamiiri shirukake meshi - spicy sauce on the rice) was described in 'Guntai Choriho' (Army cooking methods) distributed by Imperial Japanese Army.

In 1924, 'Sudacho shokudo' (Sudacho Restaurant), a simplified restaurant in Kanda, Tokyo, put the first-ever low-price curry and rice on the menu (eight sen - one sen is 1/100 of one yen).

The average starting pay of college graduates at that time was seventy yen, and the average pay of day laborers per day was one yen and sixty-three sen.

In 1926, 'Urakami Shoten' (current House Foods Corp.) put 'Instant Home Curry' on sale.
In the following year, the product was renamed 'Instant House Curry.'

In 1927, the 'Shinjuku Nakamuraya restaurant' and 'Shiseido' put high-grade curry (eighty sen and fifty sen) on the menu.

In 1929, a large restaurant in 'Hankyu Department Store' in Umeda, Osaka, sold low-price (twenty sen) curry and rice.

In 1930, Minejiro YAMAZAKI (the founder of S&B Foods, Inc.) put on the market the first curry powder made in Japan.

In 1931, the 'C&B curry incident' occurred. Although the curry power from Crosse & Blackwell (CB), a British company, had been considered as high quality, it was expensive, and inexpensive copycat products that included extenders or replaced the content with domestically made powder appeared on the market. This issue developed into an international issue between Japan and Britain, which resulted in the capture of a group of counterfeiters. After this incident, inexpensive domestically produced curry powder was re-evaluated, which supposedly promoted the drop in the prices of curry and rice.

From 1941 to 1945, the manufacture and sales of curry powder were prohibited due to food control for the war. However, the manufacture of curry powder for the military was continued in a small amount.

In 1946, the manufacture and sales of curry powder resumed due to the end of the war. However, the procurement of ingredients was not easy.

In 1949, Urakami Shoten resumed the manufacture of 'Instant House Curry.'

In 1954, S&B Foods, Inc. entered the instant curry market.

In 1960, House Foods Corp. (former Urakami Shoten) put 'House Indian Curry' on the market. Since then, the solid type became the mainstream of instant curry roux products.

In 1969, Otsuka Foods Co., Ltd. put on sale the first retort curry 'Bon Curry.'

In 1982, the Aggregate Corporation of All Japan School Dietician Conference set January 22 as the Curry Day, when elementary and junior high schools across Japan serve curry and rice together as a school lunch. Since this year, this day of a year has been Curry Day.

History of curry and rice restaurants

In 1910, JIYUKEN, a Western food restaurant, opened in Nanbashinchi, Osaka. In 1940, 'mixed curry and rice' (special curry) (called 'Indian curry' at a branch restaurant 'SENBA JIYUKEN') of this restaurant became famous when Sakunosuke ODA introduced this curry in his novel "Meoto Zenzai" (A Pair of Zenzai - a sweet porridge of azuki beans boiled and crushed and eaten with rice-flour dumplings). This curry is served with the curry sauce and the rice already mixed and a raw egg placed at the center. Pouring and mixing Worcester sauce is recommended.

In 1927, the 'Shinjuku Nakamuraya restaurant' opened a cafe where 'genuine Indian curry rice' was served for eighty sen (a price ten times as high as curry and rice served at inexpensive eating places of that time). This curry was genuine Indian curry based on a recipe created by Rash Bihari BOSE, an Indian independent activist. Despite the high price, it is said to have sold 300 servings a day.

In 1929, the curry and rice of a large restaurant in the Hankyu Department Store that opened at Umeda Station, Osaka, gained popularity due to its low price (twenty sen) for genuine curry. This curry continued to be a special menu item until the restaurant was closed for re-construction in 2004. After the Showa Depression, customers who ordered only rice (five sen) and ate it pouring Worcester sauce placed on the table increased. Although this became a problem, Ichizo KOBAYASHI, the president of Hankyu, showed an attitude to approve of it, making this dish popular as sauce rice.

The first authentic Indian restaurant in Japan was 'Ginza Nair's Restaurant,' opened in the Ginza, Tokyo, by Ayappan Pillai Mhadavan NAIL in 1949. The opening of the restaurant was followed by 'INDIAN RESTAURANT AJANTA,' which was opened in 1954 in Asagaya, Tokyo, by ジャヤ・ムールティ, younger brother of ラーマ・ムールティ, who played an important role in the Indian independence movement.

Currently, curry and rice is popular at restaurants including stand-up soba (buckwheat noodles) stalls as a fast food that can fill one's stomach quickly at a low cost. The dish is also a common menu as a snack at cafes. Retort curry products and mixed curry powder for industrial use have been sold to support the curry restaurant industry.

Ichibanya,' a major curry chain store, has a popular system in which customers can freely choose toppings such as pork cutlet, beef cutlet, fried chicken, croquette, cheese, and vegetables.

Curry rice and rice curry

Curry and rice had been commonly called rice curry at first. From the late 1960s, however, "curry rice" (a Japanese term for curry and rice) became predominant, with "rice curry" having become nearly an obsolete word today. In the transition period from rice curry to curry rice, there were lively discussions on differences between them.

Rice curry refers to popular curries that are made at home or inexpensive eating places, while curry rice refers to the ones that are served at fancy eating places such as restaurants.

Curry rice refers to the ones with the rice and the curry sauce served separately.

Rice curry uses Japanese-style soup stock, while curry rice uses Western-style soup stock.

If there is more rice than curry sauce, it's rice curry; if there is more curry sauce than rice, it's curry rice' (the copy of a TV commercial for 'Kukure Curry' of the period).

The term "rice curry" can be found in an official document of the Hokkaido Development Commissioner of 1872, and the term "curry rice" can be found in the entry on January 3, 1875, in "Mitamura Tachu Nisshi," a journal of Tachu MITAMURA, a doctor in Sakhalin. These are the proof that both terms had been used from the beginning in Japan.

Hokkaido University and curry and rice

Although William Smith CLARK, who assumed a new post at Sapporo Agricultural School (later Hokkaido University) in 1876, is known as the inventor of the term "rice curry," the term had already been used in "Meiji Gonen Kaitakushi Kobunroku Hachi" (official document of Development Commissioner in 1872, vol.8). Clark is said to have prohibited eating rice in the dormitory with the only exception of rice curry. However, according to a survey by Yoshiko YOSHIDA ("Karenaru Monogatari" - story about curry), such a record is non-existent in Hokkaido University, with the curry-related oldest records being the delivery record of curry powder of September 1877 and the dormitory meal menu of 1881. Some consider that Horace CAPRON, a predecessor to Clark, made a greater contribution to the prevalence of curry and rice in Japan.

Military/Japan Self-Defense Forces and curry and rice

There is a theory that Imperial Japanese Navy played a significant role in the popularization of curry and rice in Japan. Curry and rice is a practical food which is easy to cook and allows a balanced intake of meat and vegetables, and it is considered to have been imported from British Navy. Although bread, instead of rice, had been served with a sauce at first, bread was replaced with rice due to complaints. Saturday lunches of Imperial Japanese Navy had been fixed on curry and rice, a tradition passed on to the Maritime Self-Defense Force. Some people say this is intended for retrieving the sense of days of the week; others say this is for cleaning up the food storage. After the introduction of a five-day work week system, the curry and rice meal has been moved from Saturday to Friday. Nevertheless, all the departments eat curry and rice on the specified days, and each naval vessel and team is said to be competing over taste. Currently, the official website of the Maritime Self-Defense Force contains food recipes by each naval vessel, in which foods are grouped into 'Japanese, Western, Chinese, and Curry,' which show that curry is treated as an independent genre. There is a widely spread theory that curry ingredients seasoned with soy sauce, mirin (sweet cooking rice wine), and other seasonings are current Nikujaga (simmered meat and potatoes); thus, the origin of Nikujaga is said to be the Navy. Today, 'Navy curry' products with the names of towns that had naval ports are in the market in the form of retort food and canned food. They are based on recipes from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

There is a theory that the Imperial Japanese Army contributed to the popularization of curry and rice, based on the following facts. In the Navy, kitchen work had been done by appointed personnel, thus limiting the soldiers who learned how to cook curry and rice, whereas at Army nearly all personnel experienced kitchen work. The Army had an overwhelmingly larger number of personnel than the Navy. While Navy's stations were in limited cities such as Mutsu City, Yokosuka City, Maizuru City, Kure City, and Sasebo City, the Army was stationed all across the country. At first, the name "rice curry" was more common than "curry rice." Army's recipes used the term "rice curry," whereas Navy's recipes used the term "curry rice."

During the Pacific War, the name 'rice curry' was specified as the language of the enemy; hence, the term 'karamiiri shirukake meshi' (spicy sauce on the rice) supplanted as an equivalent Japanese word in 'Guntai Choriho' (Army cooking methods) distributed in 1910 by Imperial Army.

Japanese-style curry and rice in each region of the world

Japanese-style curry and rice is popular to some extent in countries other than Japan.
There are three possible reasons: 'the influence of Britain,' 'the influence of pre-war Japan,' and 'the influence of post-war Japan.'


In Britain, said to be the country from which curry and rice was imported into Japan, there is 'curry and rice' which is very similar to Japanese curry and rice in appearance and taste. The curry and rice in Britain is common to Japanese curry in that it is common amongst people as it is available at low prices at pubs and school cafeterias. Although it was originally a popular home-cooked meal, it has been diminishing in popularity for reasons such as the declining custom of making roast beef at home and the trouble of cooking rice. This curry and rice can be said to be a British food for the general public, being different from the curry of Indian restaurants, which exist in a large number in Britain.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, which had long been governed by Britain, there are many cafe restaurants called Cha Chaan Teng which serve curry and rice. Many of the curries in this region are more watery than Japanese ones.


In Hawaii, where many Japanese immigrants have resided since the early Meiji period, curry and rice is popular as a daily food and can be found even in the menu of restaurants serving traditional Hawaiian foods. Recently, variations of curry and rice have increased with the entry of Curry House CoCo Ichibanya and the increase in the number of immigrants from Southeast Asia such as the Kingdom of Thailand and Vietnam.


Japanese brought curry and rice into Taiwan during the period of Japan's rule. It is called 'Japanese golden curry rice' (日式咖哩飯) and is available as a casual food at stalls and restaurants. Traditional Japanese golden curry rice (日式咖哩飯) in Taiwan is similar to the curries that had been made in the Showa period of Japan, containing fewer meat and vegetables and having viscosity made with Katakuriko (potato starch). However, its popularity has been declining in recent years. Nowadays, due to the entries of major Japanese curry chain stores, curry and rice that is mostly similar to current Japanese curry and rice has become the mainstream.

South Korea

In South Korea, curry and rice is also eaten as a military food as a tradition handed down from Korea during the period of Japan's rule. Many types of curry and rice made at home or served in inexpensive eating places use a lightly seasoned and yellow-colored sauce as is the case in Taiwan. When served, the curry sauce is poured over rice as in Japan; however, they are mixed before eaten as with bibimbap.


In People's Republic of China, British-style curry and rice is available at hotels as one of 'Western foods.'
Although the dish had originally been unfamiliar to the general citizens, with the opening of curry and rice shops made with Japanese capital in Shanghai City, Japanese-style curry and rice has been gaining popularity. In China, chicken bones and seasonings for Chinese foods are used. Curry and rice is written as '珈竰' (curry) or '咖哩' (the same pronunciation).

[Original Japanese]