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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Japanese curry scene heats up

New Japanese curry rice eateries are finding favour with fans of the peppery, sweetish fare
The Sunday Times - October 30, 2011
By: Eunice Quek
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Japanese curry scene heats up Ichiban Boshi is one of several places serving Japanese curry such as Chicken Katsu Curry. -- PHOTO: R E & S ENTERPRISES

When it comes to Japanese cuisine, research assistant Joseph Yang does not care much for ramen or sushi - instead, he is a big fan of Japanese curry rice.

Says Mr Yang, 26: 'I enjoy all kinds of curry, especially the Japanese kind. If it's on the menu at any Japanese restaurant, I will order it.'

Which is why within a week of famous Japanese curry house CoCo Ichibanya's opening at 313@Somerset last month, Mr Yang visited the outlet twice to try the various spice levels offered by the eatery. It offers five levels of spiciness.

Unlike fiery Indian curries, the Japanese version of curry is sweeter and does not use coconut milk in its preparation. Its heat is more peppery than spicy. Japanese curry is commonly served with rice and meats or seafood.

Aside from CoCo Ichibanya, there are two other restaurants here that specialise in Japanese curry.

They are Mr Curry in Marina Square and The Central, and Go! Go! Curry! in Ion Orchard and 313@Somerset. Mr Curry opened in 2008, and Go! Go! Curry in 2009.

Prices start from $10 and can go up to $16 for these rice dishes, depending on the ingredients.

Mr Curry is run by the company that manages Japanese restaurant chain Waraku. The Mr Curry menu was updated last month and features an extensive variety of curry dishes, including risotto, rice pilaf and donburi. The outlet also allows customers to choose their spice level.

Go! Go! Curry! is owned by En Holdings, which runs other Japanese restaurants including En Japanese Dining Bar and Z'en Japanese Cuisine.

Says En Holdings' marketing manager Claire Kee: 'We recognised the growing fan base of those who enjoy Japanese curry. Our curry recipe is dark brown with a thicker texture and peppery taste compared to the sweet types.

'Since we opened in October 2009, business has been improving and we can sell about 100 plates of curry a day.'

A spokesman for the 52-seater CoCo Ichibanya says: 'We see an average of 450 customers on weekdays and 550 on weekends. The most popular spice level is two and three. We have plans to expand but are still looking for a space with high traffic.'

The brand debuted on the outskirts of Nagoya, Japan, in 1978. There are now 1,275 branches worldwide, with outlets in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and the United States.

On why Japanese curry does not have as strong a following here as, say, sushi, Ms Kee says: 'The challenge is promoting and educating locals about Japanese curry as they are used to other types of curry which are spicy and not peppery.'

The dish is featured on menus in many Japanese restaurants here such as Ichiban Boshi with outlets at nex and Suntec City; Tonkatsu by Ma Maison at Mandarin Gallery; Saboten at Millenia Walk; Sushi Tei outlets including Raffles City Shopping Centre and VivoCity; Tampopo Restaurant at Takashimaya Shopping Centre and Liang Court; and Bon Gout at Robertson Quay.

Fans such as Mr Yang are all for more Japanese curry rice specialists setting up shop here.

He says: 'There are many ramen restaurants and sushi chains, but not many outlets that serve only curry rice. Maybe when others see the popularity of the current eateries, they will decide to open more of such places.'

Some Singaporeans have their Japanese curry fix at home. The Japanese sections in major supermarkets such as FairPrice and Cold Storage carry a range of curry, ready to be cooked within minutes.

Mr Melvin Phua, 27, an intern at Universal Studios Singapore, says: 'We buy the ready-made sauces from the supermarkets and add our own vegetables, pork and chicken into the mix. Another alternative is to bread the meats and fry them.

'I like the curry katsu don at Sushi Tei, but I like how my parents prepare the dish at home so I don't eat it outside too often.'

GO! GO! CURRY!

What: Choose your curry rice dish from four portion sizes: Economy ($12.50), Healthy ($11.50), Business ($13.50) or First ($15.50). The rice comes with a choice of pork katsu (above), chicken katsu, sausage or shrimp. For those who want a heartier portion of the various ingredients, order the Grand Slam ($18.50).

Where: Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, B4-55 (tel: 6509-4555); 313@Somerset, 05-01, Food Republic Stall 24, 313 Orchard Road (tel: 6836-6855)

Open: 11am to 10pm daily

Info: Go to www.gogocurry.com.sg

COCO ICHIBANYA

What: Customise your Japanese curry rice, from the rice portion (150g to 550g) to the spice level and type of sauce. Choose from more than 30 meat and seafood toppings, including cheese sausage, salmon croquette (below) and tonkatsu. Prices range from $10 for clam curry to $16 for pork cutlet omelette curry.

Where: 313@Somerset, 313 Orchard Road, B3-25-27

Open: 10am to 10pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 10am to 11pm (Fridays to Saturdays)

Info: Call 6636-7280 or go to www.ichibanya.co.jp/english/index.html

MR CURRY

What: Choose from three spice levels of curry and four types of curry sauce including tomato-based red sauce and cream-based white sauce. Lunch options include omelette curry rice (from $10.80) and curry ramen (from $11.80). The main menu includes hotpot (from $14.80), curry udon (from $13.80), risotto (from $12.80), curry donburi ($12.80) and pan nabe (from $12.80, below).

Where: Two outlets at Marina Square Centrestage, 6 Raffles Boulevard, 02-138B (tel: 6338-2009); and 6 Eu Tong Sen Street, 03-84, The Central (tel: 6221-8860)

Open: 11.30am to 11pm daily

Info: Go to www.waraku.com.sg

 

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