When long ago I asked my small and teenage children what should I cook for them that day, they certainly shouted: Karei raisu. It means Curry and Rice. Yes, this is the most popular food of Japanese children. People say so and I certainly can attest to it. Interestingly enough, karei raisu is not Japanese dish at all – it is thus well adapted to the Japanese taste, and if you are surprised that there is rice and potatoes right on one plate, I was surprised too. Potatoes in curry goulash simply belong together with boiled rice just like carrots belong there. Simply so. The hidden basis is onions, which you glaze for a long time until onion almost dissolves. And what you definitely need are a kind of hardened blocks of curry paste. Guu, that’s how the Japanese call it. The manufacturers know best what the classic Japanese karei raisu should look like and taste, and everyone believes it and everyone buys the ready made product. With the guu, it’s easy to prepare this dish and it is always good. Therefore, also I always had a Golden curry product in the kitchen, and since I was cooking for children, then it was amakuchi, i.e. curry with a pleasant sweet taste. There is also karakuchi, i.e. hot, and of course something in between, which is chuukara. I took this miracle product – brown cubes in a block – to my mother and grandmother in the Czech Republic as a gift, even Christimas gift, because they wanted it. They liked it a lot and maybe didn’t bother with the onion base. They even learned to say „karei raisu“ and when they cooked this delicacy, they felt as if they were in Japan. Through the Golden curry and karei raisu we were virtually together for a while. Additional thanks to the producers!
Another peculiarity of the Japanese karei rais is that it is eaten from a deep plate for soup using spoon. Even at the luxurious Fujiya Hotel in Miyanoshita near Hakone, in their magnificent Showa-era dining room, where they used expensive Western-style dining sets and silver cutlery, karei raisu was served with spoon. Silver spoon, of course. The hotel was built in the late 19th century during the Meiji era and was the first Western-style hotel in Japan. Its customers were from the highest circles, including members of the imperial family. In the 1980s, when the hotel looked a bit like a museum, we also ventured there – me and my family, including small children. Of course, we went there twice a year or so only when we wanted to have a special treat. And not to sleep, just to eat. Usually our finances were just enough for their karei rais, but it was a exceptional pleasure just to be there. I accepted without complain even the spoon. As I am remembering it, it’s like I’m looking at the beautiful wooden ceiling of the Fujiya Hotel again. Very vivid picture!
I’m actually surprised that they served karei raisu at the Fujiya Hotel – maybe because even the children of aristocrats like karei raisu in Japan. It’s interesting because karei raisu is a common dish, the food of school canteens and children’s parties. You can have karei at a stand somewhere in a park and you’ll never regret. Karei raisu always tastes good! Plus, it’s a meal for which you only pay a few bucks and you fill your stomach. That’s why I have chosen karei raisu years ago, when the local Japanese community invited us as Miyabi to join their club and beautify the gastronomic offer of the autumn Japanese festival Akimatsuri. Now the festival has become a tradition and the visitors have been looking forward to the announced day for long time ahead. The festival also boasts a nice cultural program. Employees of Japanese companies in the Czech Republic and their wives pound omochi, fry cuttlefish, deep-fry bread rolls, rotate takoyaki with toothpicks in special hot pans and with enthusiasm create other Japanese stall delicacies on the baseball playground Kotlařka. Now, for two years in the time of Covid, the festival has not been held, and now when we were planning this year’s, I was thinking for a while whether Miyabi should offer instead of karei raisu some other Japanese food. But then I thought that karei raisu would simply be missing from the festival. In addition, we have developed our know-how with a secret recipe to add the final touch of deliciousness to our curry. A Japanese chef revealed it to us.
When Akimatsuri comes, we’re very busy in Miyabi. We must have material ready for 400 to 500 servings. That’s a huge quantity of potato and carrot! We make curry with chicken, so we also need tens of kilos of meat. The night before the event, we cook rice in all our rice cookers. I usually cook it. Since we don’t have pots big enough to handle everything in Miyabi, so two chefs always go early in the morning to a friendly restaurant of Czech cuisine and they put all components together there. At first, only my son Vítek knew the procedure and recipe, then my cousin Jára, the most experienced Miyabi chef, took over, and this year we decided to introduce the secrets to our skilled chef Kim as well. Continuity must be! Mr. Zacpal, the general manager of the restaurant for 27 long years, is always the master organizer and everything runs smoothly. Hopefully it will be the same successful this year. In the rental office every year we have to rent containers with thermal preservation and also a bathtub with heating. Most importantly, we need to purchase a lot of blocks of Golden Curry guu from Japan Food Company JFC ahead of time.
I’m looking forward to the karei raisu of this year Akimatsuri. Of course, I have to taste before I distribute the portions to the other stalls. There is always a beautiful atmosphere of cooperation and friendship. Karei raisu. Actually, I haven’t eaten curry in a long time. Maybe we should do Karei raisu days in Miyabi once a year like we do Yoshie ramen days in April. And we should also make a children’s version with apples to welcome children. Apples are cooked in the sauce into a kind of pyrre and thanks to it the curry gets a slightly sour and sweet taste. It is also a good idea to add peppers and onions cut into larger pieces at the end and cook just a little so that the vegetables remain firm. Actually, everything in karei raisu is cut into larger pieces, especially the potatoes. No narrow noodles as I read sometimes on the internet. And one must not forget about the tsukemono, i.e. pickled vegetables. There is one that goes especially well with karei raisu, sweet and slightly sharp. It is red. Tastes very good. At Miyabi, we serve our fukujinzuke with curry. Small onions lightly pickled are also good. Well, back then at the Fujiya Hotel, even the pickled vegetables were very luxurious. They served them in beautiful glass containers with silver lids. And one could take as much as one wanted. Sure we eat more we needed reaching a mood of well-being and luxury. The little extra generated a mirracle. What is the lesson from this story? The lesson is that even a completely ordinary meal can be served so beautifully that it becomes a lifelong memory as in me and also that occasional abundance reminds people that life is beautiful.
In Japan, I learned that it is good to bring those happy moments to yourself. Purposely. Plannedly. It is simply importante to remember that we are given gifts in various forms. In Japan a lot of things were stressful for me and sometimes I was very sad, but I always ordered myself that I had to do something about it. I was mother of young children, but I had the strenght that in the time between when the older ones were in kindergarten or school for a few hours, I would strap the youngest on my back and travel by public transportation an hour to the center of Tokyo just to eat at my favorite restaurant. That restaurant was in Shibuya and it happened to be a restaurant that had curry dishes. But it wasn’t a Japanese karei raisu, it was an original Indian curry restaurant. Their mutton curry was my favorite. But also curry with chicken or just vegetables. They always served a few bowls of different curries and I loved to dip their great nan bread into them. Not that in those moments I rejected Japanese karei raisu – I actually didn’t remember it at all. These were two completely different cuisines. The Indian one represented a little escape from reality and a little adventure for me. Maybe that restaurant in Shibuya still exists. I must check it. It was so authentic. A constant in my life. But it has been many years ago.
Here my memories open to another curry experience: This was maybe fifteen years or twenty years ago. It was when our children were teens or university age and we no longer lived in Japan. I wanted to show them Japan in an educational way, and I created a holiday trip taking them to the most important Japanese places. We were also on Mount Koya, where there are dozens of temples next to each other. We stayed in one temple and our program included morning prayer, breakfast and dinner. The food of course in the monastic style of vege shoujin cuisine. Every day we wore decorative yukatas with appropriate belts, all which I bought newly for us family members (there were six of us), including wooden geto sandals. It suited us very good! It was summer and we were an attraction for tourists and locals alike, but we didn’t mind at all. We were happy to be in Japan and we liked everything Japanese. Japan has been giving us so many gifts! On our third day at Koya, we were walking along the main street at noon and a curry rice restaurant caught our attention. We thought it would be a nice change and went in. They didn’t serve school canteen curry, but beautifully served food that had the authenticity of the flavors from my Indian restaurant in Shibuya, while still having a bit of that Japanese classic karei raisu. They also incorporated the potatoes. In addition, the interior of the restaurant was stylishly modern and I was excited with the fact that the traditional seat of Japanese temples and shrines can combine and harmonize typically Japanese and non-Japanese elements in one establishment and create something new. Something that appeals. Actually, this is what the Japanese do and do it very well – they borrow from somewhere else, transform into something of their own and come up with something that is beautiful and generates beauty. Next time I go to Japan, I must go to Mt. Koya again and find that curry restaurant. I am sure it is still there as another restaurant which also remains in my memory. It is typical Koya restaurant with delicious sabaoshizushi sushi. I’m looking forward! The way I see it, my travel program will definitely be from restaurant to restaurant again!
Maybe you have similar dreams and similar plans! So, when you are in Japan, enjoy both karei raisu and curry rice. Indian curry in Japan might even be better than in India. Japan masters this skill!
How good it is to remind self that great pleasure can be easily born through very common thing like the beloved curry goulash in Japanese style. Karei raisu banzai!