Served alongside omelets or pork cutlets, or just on its own, thick, sweet curry is one of Japan’s most popular dishes. Introduced by British sailors in the 19th century, it quickly became a favorite aboard the ships of the Japanese Navy, creating the dish known as Japanese Navy curry.
Curry had a number of benefits, after all. For one, curry with lots of rice made a cheap, filling meal for many people. Plus, flour in the sauce helped ward off beri-beri, a nutritional deficiency that plagued the military for decades. One particular recipe, published in 1908 in the Navy Cooking Reference Book, has been enshrined as the traditional form of Japanese Navy curry. Current recipes vary, but ingredients include Japanese rice, meat (ranging from chicken to cow tongue), vegetables, and sometimes fruit such as peaches or banana.
Even to this day, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force still has “Curry Friday” each week for sailors both at sea and on land. Modern Navy curry is sold packaged (there’s even a Hello Kitty version). The dish is also a tourist draw in two towns with deep Navy ties. The town of Yokosuka has several restaurants dedicated to serving the 1908 recipe. In Kure, Hiroshima, dozens of restaurants around the city serve curry recipes that correspond to the ones eaten aboard active ships, from the JS Samidare to the JS Umikiri. Sometimes, it’s served in boat-shaped dishes or simply with a few nautical-themed garnishes.
Need to Know
Since the Navy curry name is applied rather generally, recipes can vary widely.