Japan loves it's festivals. It has festivals for everything. From the traditional such as the Kawagoe festival (which I attended last year) and the Oeshiki festival (which I also went to last year) to the not so traditional such as the Nikufes (which, of course, I went to also!). Well, last month Shimokitazawa held their annual curry festival (official website can be found here, the 4th edition) which went for 10 days. Now the Japanese also love their curry and rice and this year over 150 restaurants, bars and cafes were taking part in this week-long celebration of spice. Now this festival is a little different to your usual festival. It is not held in one location, but you get your hands on a map which has details of each of the participating venues and details of their special curry dishes that they will be serving (from what I understand it cannot be a dish that they regularly serve) and make your way to your chosen curry haven and go curry crazy!
I decided that I would write about it and thought that I would need a decent pool of dishes to write about so decided to get through 1 curry per day. Now this is not recommended for you all as by the end of the 10 days, my bed smelled of curry and my students stopped taking my lessons as I became a living, breathing steaming walking pot of curry with it seeping out of my pores. Now I am a single man, but if I wasn't, I am sure that I would have been by the end of the 10 days. So, again, don't try this at home!
I must apologise here as some of the photos are not the clearest, but the lighting in some places was not the best for taking photos and I only use a mobile phone (at this stage) to take my photos.
Curry number 1 was a chicken nanban curry from Bar Loaded. For those of you who don't know what chicken nanban is, it is fried chicken dipped in vinegar and covered with tartar sauce, a Fukuoka speciality. Now it is not the healthiest thing to eat, but man, does it taste good!
This curry is cooked for 6 hours so the curry has a beautiful rich flavour (the curry has chicken as the base). The richness and saltiness of the curry provided a very nice contrast with the freshness of the tar tar sauce! A good way to start curry fes!
Next up was an offering from Publion.
This one was a nice beef curry. The beef used was beef tendon which tasted like it had been slow cooked as it was nice and tender. The curry base was a tomato base and with beautifully flavoured with spices. I enjoyed the occasional explosion of flavour as I bit down on the occasional whole cumin seed.
The next curry was from a little cafe called 46ma shiro kuma. Now the information on this curry stated that it was a 2-time winner of the Shimokitazawa curry of the year award so i had high expectations going here.
But I left disappointed. The overwhelming flavour of this curry was tomato. Way too much tomato. The flavour of the spices were not strong enough and there were 2 small pieces of chicken under all of that tomato curry.
I was determined not to be put off and selected a lamb curry from the craft beer bar Ushitora as my next one. I love lamb, so this one didn't need too much thought!
Now the description of this one said that it was "simmered in a generous amount of craft beer". I was worried that it would have too much of a beer taste and would overpower the richness of the curry and lamb. I needn't have worried though as the flavour was all richness. It was a nice thick curry that had a real home-cooked feel and taste to it. After the disappointment of 46ma shiro kuma, this had got me back on track and motivated again! It was going to be difficult for whoever had to follow this one.
Old rock bar Back Page (which also has a lot of antique American vintage goods) were chosen as the next selection (it was pretty difficult choosing from over 150 options!). Theirs was described as a "Nostalgic Hakata chicken curry, just like the old days". Now, I had nothing to use as a measuring stick as I had never tried a traditional Hakata chicken curry, so I was going in with a blank canvas.
It was rich, a standard Japanese style curry, but a little too salty for me. If you like your salt, and lots of it, then this one is for you.
My next choice was one of the non-standard curry offerings. Ms Claudia is an Italian restaurant in Shimokitazawa and they had chosen to do a keema curry margherita pizza. Sure, I was up for the challenge!
This one was nice! The richness of the keema and the mozzarella cheese was in contrast to the herby freshness of the basil. A little more basil would have been nice, but I guess the theme of the event was curry....
I selected a curry from Matsu to Eda, a new little cafe on the north side as the next dish. Their speciality for the festival was a medley of chicken curry and keema curry.
The chicken curry had a sweet honey flavour to it, and some nice heat. The keema was a dry curry that also had chickpeas in it. This was another good one.
I had not put a lot of thought into my next choice so I just went for one that I happened to be walking past. Mother's Ruin is a Shimokitazawa mainstay. It is a funky bar/cafe on the south side of the station. Their curry was a rich, mild tasting curry with a scoop of potato salad on top. (this is one of the photos that didn't turn out so good, which does mean that the atmosphere is good for a date!)
Not bad, a little plain, but definitely not the worst I had tried.
I was now 8 down and 2 to go and surprisingly I had not gotten tired of eating curry. I guess you can put that down to the fact that there was so much variety on offer.
The next one was another of the non-standard offerings. This time I made my way to a nice little bar / cafe called &ROLL. Their dish was a Thai yellow curry risotto!
The first mouthful of this one was a revelation! The mild Thai curry flavour was perfectly matched with the cheesy risotto. Superb! I was disappointed when I finished as I knew I would now have to wait another year to try this again!
The 10th and final curry was one that I had been eying off for a while. It was a curry from LanCul which is an English conversation cafe / bar. Their offering was a vegetable coconut keema curry.
Now this was a light, mild curry, one might say it was a curry perfect for a lady! It was nice, but I prefer my curries full, bold and rich. Having said that, it was a nice way to finish curry fes.
So, what curry was the winner in my eyes? Well I couldn't separate 2 of them. The 2 best curries, in my eyes (and tastebuds) were the chicken nanban curry from Bar Loaded and the Thai yellow curry risotto from &ROLL. They were the 2 standouts!
I had made it through 10 curries in 10 days and now it was time for my body to recover!
So, if you live in Tokyo or are going to be in Tokyo in the month of October, get along to Shimokitazawa and get your curry on!
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