if i flatter myself to thinking that if previous mails have been looking at some of the 'intellectual' aspects of japanese cuisine, this is looking at the one of the oddities of japanese cuisine ... curry rice or as the japanese call it; karei raisu (um, basically the same).
this was brought to japan in the meiji era; 1869 to 1913, but, as with most things in japan, has become most successful after world war 2 when private foreign trade was opened. it is a favourite at lunchtime i guess mainly because it covers the bases of rice, port or vegetables and the ability to eat out of a lunchbox.
today we went to a nationwide chain called cocoichibanya - this chain has over 1,000 stores nationwide; this is not just simple curry and rice - this is an empire.
the thing that got me was the scope of the menu; there are about 50 different types of curry ingredient on offer, basically if you can kill it or grow it you will find it at the cocoichi restaurants ... including the deep fried burger in curry ...
as with all lunch / fast restaurants, the focus here is on the speed of turnaround of customer. for this reason coco have developed a simple and, well in fact, deceptively complex "steps to place and order" ... i will try and describe the main steps:
1. the diner is required to choose the type of curry, here we have a choice of pork, beef, sweet pork or pork stew ... i have only eaten pork, but will try the others soon.
2. next we need to establish what size of rice is required. now, apparently there is competition, if you can eat 1.2kg of rice and equivalent sauce you can get your lunch free (and presumably the ambulance to the hospital)
3. the heat of your curry - going from 1 to 10. for a country that doesn't have a reputation for hot foods, it does surprise me that level 2 was more than hot for me - Taro settled for level 1. i did find myself wondering what 1.2kg gussling wonders managed to eat level 10 curries
4. finally the customer chooses the base ingredients with varying kcal depending on the combinations of choice - it is here where we gave up translating
presumably after this exhaustive ordering process all of the customers are hungry enough to eat the food when it arrives. i ordered the "grand mother" dish (maybe called so becuase even grandmothers can eat it) and was disappointed when i didn't win one of the prize curry spoons. this may not seem like such a great prize to us westerners, but when you've been eating with sticks all your life, it's a bit of a revelation.
nevertheless, the curry is fantastic - to locate your nearest store (no doubt it is coming to europe soon), you can check website: http://www.ichibanya.co.jp
for more info on curry in japan: http://japanesefood.about.com/library/weekly/aa052701a.htm