Soup curry - has there ever been a better marriage between two dishes like Indian curry and Chinese soup? This is nothing like the thickened brown Japanese curry that we know; it’s more watery but richer in complexity and flavours. It’s often loaded with vegetables and meat, making it a complete meal itself, and is eaten with steamed white rice.
The Japanese are great at taking something and making it better. With Chinese noodles they’ve spawned the ramen phenomenon. With deep-fried items introduced by the Portuguese, they’ve created artful tempura. And in recent years, soup curry has exploded on the scene.
Soup curry was born in the cold climes of Hokkaido, which probably makes great sense. What’s better thing than fiery drinkable curry to warm the insides well? It all began in 1971 when a restaurant created a soup “medicine curry” filled with spices and herbs. Some 20 years later, another restaurant made this dish without the medicinal bits, and named it simply “soup curry”. It was a hit, and Hokkaido soon saw restaurants purely specialising in this.
The restaurants made good use of the northern island’s excellent agricultural produce, adding ingredients like baby corn, carrots, broccoli, eggplant, pumpkin, okra, lotus root, peppers, root vegetables, cabbage and mushrooms to it. Tofu and cheese are also popular additions. Meat toppings include hamburger or minced patty, lamb, chicken, seafood, quail eggs, kakuni or braised pork belly. The broth has seen variations like those with shrimp, coconut or the original - straight up milk-less curry.
We too, have our own curry twists. Our beloved curry mee, for one, is similar in its soupiness and watery texture. However, compared to our curries, Japanese soup curry is distinctly different because they use browned basil which lends a herbal signature that isn’t in most Asian curries.
Our curries almost always have coconut cream in them, whereas with soup curry the coconut aspect is an optional variation. Also, soup curry is always eaten with rice, almost never with noodles or bread.
Soup curry hasn’t come to Singapore yet, but it may just be a matter of time. So if you are ever in Japan, look out for this dish. It’s all over the country now, even as far south as Kyushu, but Hokkaido still has the most variety of shops. By all means, fill up on sea urchins, crabs, and miso ramen when you are in Hokkaido, but soup curry will charm you like nothing else.
Here are a few places in Sapporo you can try them:
Japan, 〒060-0063 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, 中央区南３条西２丁目７
Soup Curry Suage: http://suage.info
Japan, 〒064-0804 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Minami 4 Jonishi, 5 Chome−6−1, 都志松ビル 2F
Soup Curry Lavi: http://www.011bros.com/lavi/shop/index.html
Japan, 〒060-0005 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Kita 5 Jonishi, 2 Chome, ESTA, 札幌ESTA 10F
(lavi has six branches, including one at Chitose Airport)