Kare Raisu

Relatively easy to make once you have all the proper ingredients, Japanese kare-raisu (Japanese Curry) is great for lunch and goes well with Japanese pickles and beer (tsukemono). Our intern from Japan, Kanako, brought this dish for lunch and we immediately knew it was worthy of "Recipe of the Month"! Enjoy. Douzo tabete kudasai!

Japanese curry is a thick, smooth and sweet curry that is quite different in texture and taste from Indian curries. Japanese curry is always served over a bed of Japanese short-grained rice and is consequently always called kare-raisu.

The spices for Japanese curry often come in powder form or flat bricks that you break apart, much like one would a bar of chocolate. The brand names are sometimes quite cross-cultural, like Java, House, and Vermont. Other brands found in the U.S. include Kikkoman, S&B & Kokumaru. Spice (and thickener) mixtures come in mild, medium and hot versions. Spiciness is not the only difference between these brands, as each of these spice mixtures have their own unique taste and some cooks even mix the spice concoctions in varying proportions to achieve the taste they desire

Other than the thickening spice mixture, basic ingredients are potatoes, onions, carrots and meat. Dark-meat chicken is used frequently, however chicken breasts, beef or pork can also be used. The type of meat being used is often related to regions of Japan: pork is used in the north, beef is preferred in central Japan and chicken is most popular in the south, but all can be found throughout Japan. Individual cooks achieve variety by adding additional ingredients, including apples, coffee, peas, caramelized onions, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, ketchup, Tonkatsu sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and whatever else pleases the cook's palate. Regional curries have ingredients as diverse as scallops, pears, mackerel, oysters and bitter melon. The important goal when cooking kare-raisu is that vegetables and meat be soft yet firm, so the cooking time and temperature are important in order to achieve best results.

Japanese curry can also be bought pre-packaged, which is quite popular in Japan, but varies in quality. Kare-raisu is the main course served to members of the Japanese defense forces every Friday and is a popular food to eat while camping.

Even though Japanese curry is thick and Japanese rice is somewhat sticky, kare-raisu is typically eaten with a large spoon rather than hashi (chopsticks). It is often served with tsukemono vegetables pickled in vinegar such as fukujinzuke (a pickle made of daikon, which is Japanese radish, eggplant, lotus root, cucumbers and a variety of other ingredients) or rakkyo (scallions pickled with vinegar, salt, soy sauce and sugar). The importance of tsukemono should not be underestimated because the crunchy acidic tartness contrasts nicely with the sweet thick taste and feel of the kare-raisu.

Kare-raisu is thought to have been introduced to Japan by English sailors during the Meiji period, at the end of the 19th century.



  1. Dice the potatoes and carrots into half-inch cubes or pieces (not too small!).
  2. Finely dice half the onion and then cut the remainder into small wedges.
  3. Sprinkle a moderate amount of salt and pepper on both sides of beef.
  4. Combine red wine, curry powder and grated garlic in a bowl (marinade).
  5. Place beef in a small container, pour marinade over beef and then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
  6. Slice the beef into small strips.
  7. Sauté the chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. Use low heat for up to 30 minutes until the onions are caramelized.
  8. Remove beef from marinade, drain and reserve the wine.
  9. In a fry pan set on high, brown the beef in a tablespoon of oil.
  10. Transfer beef to the pot with the caramelized onions.
  11. Add the vegetables and water and simmer for 5 minutes.
  12. Add grated apple and marinade sauce and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  13. Add water (preheat to boiling) and gently simmer until potatoes are just soft. If foam forms on the top, skim it off.
  14. Add the curry seasoning and gently mix well until completely dissolved. Slicing the curry roux first helps it dissolve faster. If curry is too thick, add some extra water.
  15. Turn off the heat.
  16. Add instant coffee (or real coffee) and oyster sauce for added taste.
  17. Serve on top of rice in a bowl. Don't forget the tsukemono!

Recipe submitted by Kanako Masubuchi
Photographs by T. & S. Johnston-O'Neill

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