Not a joke, Japanese Curry is a thing and it’s delicious. My British friends who live here tend to “tsk tsk” the hell out of it but they still shovel it down. The Japanese have been eating curry for quite a while now and it has definitely become a part of the national menu. Japanese Curry obviously has its roots outside of the country but has been in vogue here long enough that it has transformed accordingly.
So what is Japanese curry?
It’s typically a gram masala base. Then the locals go nuts with the add ons. Sometimes they’ll include dashi, other times soy sauce is added and a few places where the secret ingredient is instant coffee. It’s rarely, if ever spicy. It’s more of a curry gravy then what you would expect from an Indian or Southeast Asian curry. Whatever it is, it’s filling, warm and delicious. Most places that serve it also have a seemingly endless toppings menu so you can dress it up anyway you like.
Welcome to Coco Ichiban.
Coco Ichiban is the world’s largest curry chain. They even have one in the US, in Hawaii. Check them out at their website. Coco Ichiban is delicious, quick and just about everywhere you need it to be in Tokyo. This is a perfect lunch to keep you on your feet is you battle the busy streets of Tokyo. You don’t need to spend a lot of money yet you can still enjoy an extremely Japanese dining experience and eat all manner of wild looking toppings.
The menu is massive. Toppings range from fried chicken cutlets to hamburg steaks filled with camembert. The base remains the same however. Super fluffy, nutty white rice with a curry roux. After that you start including your add ons. The menu has page after page of different arrangements.
Summer vegetable curry
I mentioned there were some seasonal options here. Each season has a different vegetable curry on the menu. It’s summer here so I ordered the Summer Vegetable with shredded chicken curry. The summer veggies included cherry tomatoes, asparagus and eggplant. I then added a soft boiled egg and the okra yamaimo for toppings. Yamaimo is a super starchy potato that is grated and then poured over the okra. It’s not the prettiest but according the world’s healthiest and longest living breed of human (Japanese women) it is extremely good for you. Have you ever had okra? I grew up in Arizona and for whatever reason don’t ever remember eating this. I have met americans here from the south who say this is a staple in that part of the country. Either way, it’s awesome and when you cut them they look like little green stars. Score!
Look at that egg go!
While I was busy eating my veggies Takao went for the shrimp and cream stuffed croquettes. Right? What a trooper. A croquette is a universal comfort food with variations in just about every country in the world. The Japanese version is most closely related to the ones in the American south and east coasts as they are typically filled with mashed potatoes, cheese and minced beef of shellfish. Deep fried crab cakes! That’s right, you can have a deep fried cream and crab cakes on a curry. Don’t worry, you’ll walk it off while you’re in Tokyo.
Condiment alert! That guy on the left is filled with a sweet, pickled radish that goes really well with curry. It’s not for everyone but I highly recommend giving it a taste. Next up we have a bit of chili pepper in the silver shaker and finally a jar of “sauce”. Sauce is sauce in Japanese. That’s it’s name, sauce. It’s a type of slightly sweet Worcestershire Sauce that goes well on battered and fried food. If you order something with a cutlet or a croquette this sauce will be a nice addition. That little white thing with the number 25 on it as a little “bell” you can ring when you’re ready to order.
Eating in Tokyo on a budget
Tokyo retains this late 80’s, Bruce Willis at Nakaotmi Plaza image around the world. People think it’s expensive. While it has expensive options and may be pricier than say, Tucson, Arizona, it is not beyond the reach of mere mortals to wine and dine here. People in Tokyo pay around 6 USD for a cocktail WITHOUT tips. Meanwhile the Aussies are traipsing around Sydney paying 20 USD for Bloody Mary’s at Sydney Harbor. Or you’re tipping another 2 bucks for your already overpriced Long Island in LA. Food and booze here can be found for cheap! The Japanese excel at providing quality for less. That massive curry with all the seasonal vegetables is about 8 USD. Sure a big mac meal is cheaper but here you can get actual food this way.
This is a chain restaurant. You’re on holiday. Save your money for some insane dinner. If you do your research you can keep your lunch time spending to under 70 USD for a week long trip while still enjoying something uniquely Japanese.
They’ve also got shelves of free manga if you can read Japanese.
Coco Ichiban is a must stop while you are in Tokyo. If you have kids this is a great place that mom and dad can enjoy as well. They are ALL OVER Tokyo so if you are out touring it up then this place is your answer to “I’m starving, I can’t read any of these signs, why are there so many stairs in Tokyo what should I do for lunch?” You can search for Coco Ichiban in English in Google maps and it will pop up. Hopefully not too far from where you are.