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What to Put in Japanese Curry? #1 Best Guide

What to Put in Japanese Curry? #1 Best Guide

Curry has always been a favorite dish of mine, especially in winter when you want something warm and super delicious.

Plus, there is just something really comforting about a curry, wouldn’t you agree?

When I traveled to Japan a few years ago, I was quite surprised to learn about Japanese curry.

I was eager to try this almost national dish – because it is so widely eaten! I was quite surprised at first. It didn’t look like the Indian or Thai curries I made at home.

The Japanese curry was like a stew and milder in flavor. I fell in love, and Japanese curry has become an instant favorite in my home.

So what can you put in your Japanese curry?

What Should You Put in Japanese Curry?

Japanese curries are traditionally made with roux, beef or chicken, carrots, potato, and onion. While you can stick to the traditional way, you can add seafood or even go plant-based. There are a variety of vegetables and even fruit options that make a delicious Japanese curry: broccoli, cauliflower, okra, sweet potato, daikon, eggplant, edamame, and more. You can opt to make the roux yourself or buy one of the many brand and flavor options in the store.

What to Put in Japanese Curry?
What to Put in Japanese Curry?

Then, there are also a few “secret” ingredients that may be strange to add to a curry but sweetens, freshens up, or makes the Japanese curry even richer and more flavorful. A few of these strange ingredients are dark chocolate, instant ground coffee, ketchup, hot mustard, and red wine.

What Is Japanese Curry?

The British who spent time in India introduced curry to the Japanese.

The Japanese reinvented curry to suit their tastes and to cook it easily with the ingredients that are readily found in Japan.

Japanese curry doesn’t much resemble the other curry dishes from around the world.

It is more like a hearty stew that soothes your soul while feeding your tummy and tantalizing your taste buds with yummy flavors.

Yogurt or coconut milk is generally used to thicken Indian or Thai curries, but a roux is used as the thickening agent of Japanese curry.

Chefs can make their own roux or buy a store-bought roux that is easy to use.

Japanese curry is typically served with:

  • Rice (called curry rice or curry)
  • Udon noodles (udon curry)
  • Curry-filled pastry (bread curry)

Rice curry is the most popular, and it can be served on a flat plate or bowl.

The sauce with the meat and vegetables can be served over the rice or next to it. It’s commonly eaten with a spoon.

Japanese Curry Ingredients

Japanese curry is essentially made up of 4 parts:

  1. Vegetables
  2. Meat
  3. The sauce
  4. The roux to thicken the sauce into a stew

There isn’t just one Japanese curry that’s made all over Japan. There are many, and top chefs like Jamie Oliver even have their own take on Japanese curry, too.

The Vegetables in a Japanese Curry

The most popular vegetables in Japanese curry are potato, onion, and carrot.

However, the sky’s the limit. You can make other flavor combinations too with green beans, okra, eggplant, squash, daikon, kabu, edamame, mushrooms, sweet potato, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and other veggies that are in season.

You can put roux, beef or chicken, and carrots, potato, and onion as well as meat or seafood into Japanese curry
You can put roux, beef or chicken, and carrots, potato, and onion as well as meat or seafood into Japanese curry

The Meat in a Japanese Curry

The most popular meat used in Japanese curry is beef and chicken, but you can also make some great-tasting seafood and pork Japanese curries too.

Some chefs recommend using shoulder beef cuts or chicken thighs because they add more flavor to the curry.

Brown the edges of the meat cuts first so you can seal them in the meat juices.

Also, crisp up any fat and skin so it doesn’t become rubbery later on when you add the meat to the sauce.

If you are a vegan, you can also skip the meat and add tofu and other ingredients that are high in protein like edamame beans and mushrooms to make a delicious plant-based Japanese curry.

Also, make sure the roux cubes, if store-bought, are vegan.

The Roux to Thicken a Japanese Curry

I sometimes make my own roux, but I must admit that buying the Japanese curry roux from the store just makes things a lot easier.

And I kind of like that it is shaped like a chocolate bar and comes in a variety of flavors.

These curries also come in 3 categories of spiciness:

  • Amakuchi is a sweet and mild flavor (levels 1-2)
  • Chuukara is a mild spicy flavor (level 3)
  • Karakuchi is hot and spicy (levels 4-6 with 6 being the spiciest)

You may call me silly now, but I like to mix 2 or 3 rouxs together so I can get the sweetness of one and the bit more spiciness of another.

Try it, and let me know what combinations work well for you!

Secret Ingredients That Make Your Japanese Curry So Much Better!

There are a few surprising and unique ingredients you can add to your Japanese curry to make it more flavorful:

  • Caramelized onions to add depth of flavor, a deeper color, and a more gravy-like taste
  • Dark chocolate, only a small amount, to make the curry richer or soften the spiciness
  • Instant coffee powder for a deeper and richer curry taste
  • Red wine to add a refreshing touch and some acidity to the Japanese curry
  • Soy sauce to add more of a Japanese or umami taste
  • Ketchup, tomato juice, or tomato purée to make the Japanese curry more tomato-y and add acidity

To make your Japanese curry spicier, add chili sauce, hot mustard, fresh chili, chili powder, or some garam masala for an Indian spiciness kick.

Ginger or Worcestershire sauce will also add acidity to the curry, while butter will add some richness.

Grated apple, honey, sugar, jam, or apple sauce will easily sweeten your Japanese curry.

Frequently Asked Question About What to Put in Japanese Curry

What flavors are in Japanese curry?

Unlike curries from India and other parts of the world, Japanese curry is thicker, almost sauce-like, and tastes sweet and savory. The sweet flavors in Japanese curry come from honey, grated apples, carrots, and onions, while the savory flavors come from potatoes and meat.

How do you thicken Japanese curry?

The easiest way to thicken your Japanese curry is to use a roux you buy in the grocery store. Simply heat your curry until a simmer and then add some store-bought roux until it has dissolved. You should see your curry start to thicken in 2-3 minutes.

Why does Japanese curry taste different?

Japanese curry is much milder when compared to the bold and spicy flavors of Indian curry or Thai curry. The spices and curry powder used in Japanese curry are added to blend together in a harmonious flavor with no one flavor dominating another.

Conclusion About What to Put in Japanese Curry

There are so many ingredients you can add to your Japanese curry to make it delicious.

And there are ways you can experiment with the Japanese curry too – from trying various roux cube flavors and mixing 2 or 3 of them to adding some of the more interesting ingredients like coffee and chocolate.

While traditional Japanese curries prefer using chicken or beef as their meat additions, you can easily adapt Japanese curries to suit your flavor profile and lifestyle – whether you eat poultry and seafood only or consume a plant-based diet.

Happy cooking!

Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)

Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking and have made it my mission to answer as many open questions related to cooking and food as possible. I am by no means a professional cook. But cooking is a hobby that I have loved for the past 20 years and I am getting better by the day.