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World Cuisine

How Indian Curry Became a Hit in Japan

Quick! Name the most iconic Japanese foods you know. If your list includes sushi, tempura, yakitori and sukiyaki, you’re off to a good start.

But no menu of Japan’s most popular dishes would be complete without curry.

How did an Anglo-Indian dish become a Japanese favorite? It’s a tale of geo-politics, Navy ships and hungry sailors:

Japan had been a closed nation for centuries, but when a young emperor named Mutsuhito took the throne in 1868, a new era of openness began as the government sought to modernize its feudal society.

Among the first outsiders to sail into the island nation: the British Navy, whose sailors had developed a taste for curry-spiced stews while serving in India.

The Japanese not only welcomed this new flavor: They made it their own, creating a ritual around preparing and serving curry.

Today, curry is considered one of Japan’s national dishes — right up there with tempura and sukiyaki. The Japanese navy lists more than 40 different curry recipes that are served aboard its ships.

Japanese curry has a sweeter flavor than Anglo-Indian version; the sweetness comes from star anise, and works especially well with coconut milk.

Get the recipe: Coconut Curry Sauce with Tofu and Cashews