The Yokohama Curry Museum (横濱カレーミュージアム ), an homage to Japanese curry was, prior to its closure in early 2007, a humble addition to the bustling Isezakichou (伊勢佐木町) shopping district of Yokohama, Japan. It occupied the 7th and 8th floors of a nondescript building (compared to other Japanese buildings, Mardi Gras-colored elephants flanking a genie lamp isn’t even the stuff dreams are made of–see slideshow below), and oh right, it was in Yokohama. It’s not such a bad place (after all, they’ve got a ramen museum/ramen cafeteria), but their most popular tourist attraction is one of the cleanest Chinatowns you could ever visit (so then, how is it a Chinatown?).
Part of the museum was modeled after the Meiji-era Yokohama port (mid-late 1800s–early 1900s), when Japan had its borders reopened to allow significantly more foreign trade and ideas to circulate. At this point, the British, already settled into the Indian subcontinent, introduced curry to the Japanese. Though not the multifarious and spicy Indian curries based on a wide variety of indigenous spices, rather it was a sweeter sauce formed by a sweeter “curry powder” blend easier on British palettes (additionally, it would’ve been expensive and difficult to transport the required Indian herbs and plants at the time). This sweet mix was a roux, a thickener of stews, soups and humans, which eventually made it one of the most popular fast foods in Japanese homes. All you would need is rice to place it on top of, and if you’re feeling peckish, add either the staple three – carrots, potatoes and onions – or whatever else is laying around the neighbor’s house. Beef (already, blasphemous to the curry’s origins), pig, fried pig, minced pig…and I hope I don’t have to reference wikipedia after this post, but check out these Japanese prefectural favorites. Even if a user made those up, like the guy who said flights from Makkah to Tel Aviv will be starting soon (oh, that was me), it’s still a good list to base your vacation around. Optionally, fukujinzuke (福神漬), slightly sweetened pickled vegetables mixed with soy sauce, and rakkyo (ラッキョウ),pickled pearl onions, round out the dish. Oh, and if using chopsticks is one of your great travails, Japanese curry is eaten with a spoon.
It’s quite a popular meal among the Japanese, so much so that breads are stuffed with the gloop, and chains focusing on the curry have grown wings, spreading to Hawai’i and China. Although the museum had a selection of stalls to try different types of South Asian and Japanese curry, you’re made fully aware that Japan and spicy foods don’t mesh too well. You may retort with wasabi, and pull tougarashi out of something unmentionable, but beyond that, ordering the hottest thing at a Coco’s Curry House Ichibanya is less impressive than putting on a pair of white gloves and pushing your own way onto a train in Shinjuku station. (Video thanks to christof68) Furthermore, I’m not sure who influenced naming the ready-made curry mix brand names, but Vermont Curry appears to be a big hit. (Photos thanks to japan-guide; Vermont Curry is the yellow one in the lower left)
Whether or not you’ve tried Japan’s take on something…British, would you be willing to try it (again)? Have Japanese curry spots opened near you? Did you ever visit the Yokohama Curry Museum?