The joy of CoCo Ichibanya

coco ichibanya curry article

I think Japan ranks highly up the typical travel bucket list; it’s kawaii (cute) culture, neon lights and of course the food draw visitors from all over the world. But for those of us in the UK and Europe its a long, tiring flight and an expensive place to stay so not everyone who wants to gets to visit – so I wanted to share a small anecdote from my trip.

I am lucky enough to travel often, and having explored most of Asia over the years Japan is the one I held back for one reason – the spring cherry blossoms! Blossom season in Japan is a stunning blanket of pink over the countries many parks, and I went to visit the country to celebrate my birthday which is also in spring – perfect!

Japan is everything you would expect; awesome (and plentiful) vending machines, everything runs like clockwork, polite people, huge toy and collectible shops and a plethora of karaoke bars – oh and the food.

Food in Japan is elevated to heights I don’t think I have experienced elsewhere; the sushi/sashimi was inexpensive but far surpassed anything I enjoyed elsewhere (Including restaurants like Nobu). Yet the one real surprise was their humble Japanese curry.

Japanese curry

CoCo Ichibanya

Now don’t expect their curries to be full of vegetables, and pieces of meat stewed in a spicy hot sauce; a traditional Japanese curry is actually a bland looking thick brown sauce; almost like a dark apple sauce (it does actually contain apples!).

But oh my word it tastes so good!

The country CoCo Ichibanya outlets everywhere, and these are extremely popular, low-priced curry houses are awesome, and I must admit I was addicted to them during my travels.

You basically walk in, take a seat, pick a cutlet – usually pork or chicken, but they do vegan options too –, the amount of rice you want, and then a sauce which is graded in spiciness from 1-5. Now I wouldn’t regard any of the sauces as “hot”, so for me options 1-4 were a bit bland, but once they get the heat level right their curry is probably the best comfort food I have had in my life.

Not too heavy or too light, warming, soothing and tasty. I was in my foodie heaven, most days I would go to CoCo Ichibanya for lunch, do my tourist thing, then explore the streets at night looking for a sushi restaurant.

CoCo Ichibanya outlets tend to be small restaurants like most in Japan, but are easily found due to their big round signs sticking out onto the street. The interiors are pretty austere; with none of the cuteness or charm you’d maybe come to expect here; but within minutes of ordering you are enjoying a tasty hot meal.

In an absurd sounding yet true story, the curry was introduced to Japan by two British spice merchants in the 19th century. Over time and with some local modifications the dish ended up becoming so popular it’s the base of one of the largest food chains in Japan .

The list of ingredients are pretty basic; mainly apple sauce, garam masala powder, onions, vinegar, garlic and stock for the sauce, and panko-breaded cutlet. These humble ingredients add up to more than their parts so I can highly recommend this food, and it’s actually one of the experiences I have come to remember most about my trip there.

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