History of Japanese curry

The origin of the word curry

There are various theories about the origin of the word ‘curry’. The most probable ones are that it derives from a Tamil word meaning sauce or soup over rice, or from a generic name for spicy rice with soup, eaten daily in India and Sri Lanka. However, the true origin is still not certain.

The root of Japanese curry

The British established the East India company in 1600 and started to found colonies. At the same time, European powers such as the Netherlands and France expanded into Asian countries and the amount of trade increased. It is against this background that many British people brought Indian food back to Britain, where it spread around the country. Then, the seasoning garam masala was brought to Britain and, at the beginning of the 18th century, a British company called C&B started to manufacture the world’s first curry powder. When this was combined with ‘roux’ from western cuisine, a thicker form of curry was born, which later became the root of Japanese curry.

How did curry come to Japan?

It is said that curry was spread to Japan from the west at the end of the Edo period after the ports re-opened, and that the first curry recipe was introduced to Japan in 1872. After 200 years of seclusion, the whole nation was eager to absorb western culture, and food was no exception. However, curry and rice was an expensive gourmet dish: one record says that it cost eight times more than the typical commoners’ dish, morisoba (buckwheat noodles served with a soy sauce flavoured soup), although it soon gained great popularity.

In the 1910s, the recipe for Japanese curry and rice was invented, featuring onions, carrots and potatoes as ingredients. This recipe was adopted by the Japanese army because of its nutritional value and ease of cooking. In 1923, Minejiro Yamazaki (founder of S&B Foods Inc.) was determined to develop a Japanese curry powder. After much trial and error, he finally succeeded in his goal. Today, every family has curry powder at home.

Curry in Japan today

Japanese curry has grown to be one of the most common meals in Japanese homes. Research shows that the average Japanese person consumes about 62 dishes of curry per year, which means that most people in Japan enjoy the dish more than once a week.