I love to cook, and I am told I’m pretty good at it. The one thing I cook for people most often is this this Japanese curry. I’ve been making it for nearly a decade, but I really got serious about it after my wife and I went to Tokyo in March, 2008. I make it four or five times a year. Amongst my neighbors and friends it has become my signature dish. If you are familiar with Japanese curry at all, you know the basic dish is wonderful during colder weather, the spicier the better.
Dan’s Tokyo Curry
I call this Tokyo Curry because Tokyo is where I discovered and fell in love with Japanese curries. But I’m sure this very basic variation of this dish is made all over Japan.
2 to 3 large white onions, cut or diced into medium- or small-sized pieces.
2 to 3 large carrots, cut into ¼ inch slices.
1 ½ pounds fingerling potatoes, cut in half or in thirds, depending on size of each potato.
2 pounds of rib eye beef, cut into bite-sized chunks (Note for vegetarians: bite-sized cubes of firm to-fu can be substituted for the meat. Simply skip the meat-browning step and start with the veggies instead. Add the to-fu towards the end so it gets hot but does not become goo. This dish is fantastic with to-fu!)
¼ cup good sesame oil for browning the beef.
As much tap water as is needed to cover all ingredients in the pot and bring them to a boil. You can also use ½ chicken broth for richer overall flavor.
4 to 8 cups of cooked Calrose rice, or equivalent Japanese rice variety. (This can be prepared on the stovetop or in an electric rice cooker. Prepare the amount of rice you think you will need for the number of people you are feeding.)
Fukujinzuke, the (typically) red Japanese pickles that almost always garnish Japanese curry. Fukujinzuke are essential to appreciate the full sensory experience of this dish. But if you can’t get fukujinzuke, beni shōga (pickled ginger) works well as a tasty garnish for this.
A large steel stew pot or Dutch oven, but not an enameled pot because these run too high a risk of scorching.
A big, long metal spoon or wood spatula. This dish needs to be stirred frequently.
A good chef’s knife for cutting the beef and the vegetables.
Rice pot or electric rice cooker.
Put the sesame oil and a small piece of the beef in the pot and heat the oil until the beef starts to fry. If you overheat the oil it will start to smoke, so monitor this carefully.
Put all the rest of the beef in the pot and brown it in the oil.
Once the beef is browned, put all the onions in the pot, stir until ingredients are mixed, and cook until onions are tender and starting to turn clear.
Then add the carrots, stir until ingredients are mixed, and cook for three to five minutes.
Add mushrooms and repeat, cooking for three minutes.
Add potatoes and enough water to cover all ingredients, plus another ¾ to 1 inch of water.
Stir thoroughly and bring to a full boil.
Add curry cubes, stir, and allow to boil for about 30 seconds.
Stir, reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 2 to 2 ½ hours, until the beef is very, very tender.
While the dish is simmering, stir often. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot as curry gravy will stick to it. But this flavorful goo needs to be reincorporated into the mixture.
Once the beef is as tender as you like it, turn off heat, and prepare to eat.
Serve this curry over a bed of hot, steamy rice and serve with a generous little mound of the fukujinzuke or beni shōga or both. The pickles can be mixed into the curry, or kept on the side as you wish.
Prepare to want seconds, if there are any.
And there you have it. Let me know what you think of this concoction if you make it. May this dish take your taste buds to one of my favorite culinary corners of Tokyo, a town I love so well.
–Dan Ryan, Easter Sunday, 2014
P.S. If by some miracle of nature you are a genius of Japanese cooking who makes your own authentic curry seasoning mixture from scratch instead of cheating with pre-mix cubes like me, I’d love to get your recipe.
It has never been in my karma to meet famous people. It just never happens to me*. But in 2012 I had the good fortune to meet “Tokyo Vice” author and enemy of Japanese crime Jake Adelstein at a sports pub in Roppongi. That was a wonderful gathering, during which the best-selling author autographed two books for me and I met some excellent people who are now friends. But because we were in a group and Jake was pressed for time, he and I didn’t really have a chance to talk privately.
However, fortune or fate paid me the rare compliment of granting me the chance to meet up with Jake again. We had breakfast together recently at a nice hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. We talked of many things, from cameras to conspiracies, and the hotel bar even had Dr Pepper. As ever Jake was gracious and accommodating and let me take his picture. I suppose it is my way of boasting that I am publishing a couple photos of him here for you to peruse.
Thanks, Mr. Adelstein, and I look forward to next time, whenever that may be…
(Pictures taken at the Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, on November 6th, 2013)
* I was within five feet of Mike Tyson and Robin Givens at Ueno Park Zoo once, but I didn’t have the courage to walk up and shake Tyson’s hand. The couple was, ironically in Tyson’s case I thought, looking at the gorillas. This was in March, 1988, a couple of days before Tyson destroyed Tony Tubbs in two minutes and 54 seconds at the Tokyo Dome. I heard Tyson left Tokyo pretty quickly after the fight to avoid the wrath of Japanese fight fans and promoters, but that may be apocrypha gathered from the Tokyo gaijin grapevine that existed at the time.
My friends took me to lunch today. We went to my favorite noodle and donburi shop…
The green tea was beautiful. I wanted to get in it like it was a hot onsen bath…
My favorite lunch is oyakodon. I had a giant bowl all to myself. I was very hungry…
After lunch, my friends went shopping. I went to see an old friend…
In Japantown, there is a beautiful concrete pagoda. We went to see it. The sky was very blue…
To help save forests, I read news online. This newspaper machine was a strange sight to me…
I am very green, so I picked up trash on the way home. San Francisco can be very dirty…
But I am relaxed now and home with my friends. We do yoga. It was a good day.
I try to be a nice guy, most of the time. I sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail. But it is usually more interesting when the results are mixed.
This morning I went to Midtown Market, the only grocery store in Brisbane, for milk, Dr Pepper, popcorn and cigarettes. It’s a nice place and convenient, but a little pricey. On a normal weekday morning the Korean-American owner Mr. Choo or his wife would have been at the register. But this day their employee waited on me. She’s a nice Māori girl in her late twenties from New Zealand, whom I shall call Zena.
It took seconds for Zena to ring up my half gallon of milk, two-liter jug of Dr Pepper and two packets each of microwave popcorn and Fortuna light cigarettes. Zena isn’t dour, but she also doesn’t normally smile a hell of a lot. However, as she bagged my groceries, I noticed she actually seemed down.
“How are you doing?” I asked, “Everything okay?”
“Oh,” Zena said, “I can’t complain.”
“Heh, sure you can. Complaining is the right of every single human being. It gives some of us purpose.”
She shot me a look then, not an angry look but one that was a mixture of annoyance and exasperation.
“Well,” she said, “Thanks for asking.”
I said “You know, when someone says ‘I can’t complain’ that’s code for ‘I’m having a shit day but I really don’t feel like talking about it.’”
After I said this, her annoyed, exasperated look went away. Then she chuckled a little and her face broke into that wide smile for which most Pacific Islanders are justifiably famous. And as I left the store I thought to myself “Well, maybe I’ve actually managed to brighten someone’s day.”
Then I walked to my car, got in it, and drove home with my dangerous but delicious purchases.
(Picture taken in the Life store near Nakano Broadway, Tokyo in April, 2012. It has nothing to do with the prose above, but does kind of share the spirit of the story.)