Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.
Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.
A recognized curry expert, Jinsuke Mizuno has written over 40 books on the subject. As well as staying abreast of the latest developments in the ever-changing world of Japanese curry, he is also skilled at preparing the dish. In his career to date, Mizuno has written about more than 1,000 original curry recipes.
April 18, 2017
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If someone asks you to imagine Japanese cuisine, what comes to mind? Sushi most likely takes the number one spot, followed, perhaps, by ramen, sukiyaki, tempura and the like.
The truth is, there’s another food in Japan that’s consumed just as often – if not more – than all of the above: curry.
Yes: curry, that famous dish from India, has become a Japanese staple, beloved by children and adults alike. As we learn this week on Japanology Plus, curry has been adapted for the Japanese palate over a period of 150 years and is definitely considered a bit of homegrown Japanese cuisine at this point.
Katsu curry: a deep-fried pork cutlet swimming in a sea of curry.
Peter Barakan’s enviable task for this episode involved the eating of many delicious curries.
As Peter Barakan discovers on the program, the path on which curry found its way to Japan was a bit of a circuitous one. Though one might imagine the dish came directly from India to Japan – they are both located in Asia, after all – it actually arrived via the U.K. As guest and curry expert Jinsuke Mizuno points out, it came at a time when Japan was first embracing ideas and cuisines from the west – and that ended up including curry.
Because of this circuitous route, perhaps – and because it had already perfected its own homegrown version – Japan took a relatively long time to embrace “authentic” Indian curry. As Peter points out, it was hard to find Indian food in Japan when he first arrived in the country in the 1970s.
Fast forward to the present day, though, and that’s definitely not the case. As Mizuno points out, Indian cuisine has taken off in Japan in the last 30 years, and it’s hard to go anywhere in Tokyo, at least, without running into a shop featuring curries from Indian or Nepal, and even spicy red and green curries from Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam are widely available.
Curry star Mizuno shows Peter how he creates his own custom curry.
Though plenty of Japanese curry is still made with just a block of roux or retort pouch, chefs have also embraced a blending of distinct spices.
This wave of curry from India and elsewhere in Asia has, in turn, had an interesting effect on the Japanese version. The final part of the program takes us on a trip to several craft curry eateries in Osaka’s Tanimachi district which use special blends of spices rather than pre-mixed roux. In other words, this new wave of Japanese curry has much more in common with the Indian original. And the trend isn’t limited to Osaka: one of this writer’s favorite curry shops in the hip neighborhood of Koenji, Tokyo is run by a Japanese chef who makes regular trips to India to check in on the latest trends and stock up on spices.
Peter eats another curry. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
This isn’t to say, though, that new-wave Japanese chefs are dedicated to making slavish reproductions of Indian curry. Instead, their dishes are a natural evolution of what Japanese curry was all about in the first place: embracing an internationally-beloved cuisine and giving it a unique Japanese twist.
Curry udon: curry ladled over the Japanese noodles known as udon.
Matt Alt and his white sweater prepare to do battle against curry udon and its flying sauce.
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