Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ethiopia, Ochanomizu

Japan has an odd love affair with curry. I've read the history but am lazy today and don't feel like looking it up again. Suffice to say that one of the most common things to eat as an easy family dinner at home is curry. Outside the home it's not as common to find shops specializing in curry - lots of homey places have it, but usually just as a menu item among the fried things and fish.

There are exceptions, and there are people who love them. In fact there's a whole web site devoted to ranking curry shops. In fact this place is #2 on the site. And in fact I don't get it, but that's no reason not to have a spice-laden, healthy lunch when you've ridden your bike all the way to Ochanomizu and realized that this #2 curry shop, recently featured in a Bloomberg article on Japanese curry, is right across the street from the music store you're visiting (Kurosawa Music's Dr. Sound, which specializes in bluegrass instruments, ukuleles and metal guitars. Of course. ). I'm kind of a sucker for top-rated things, aren't I?

For anyone non-Japanese who's also never visited, this is how you pay - a vending machine. These guys are at least nice enough to have pictures on it, but it's a funny concept that you pay your (roughly) $10 to a machine at the beginning of your store experience. No money changes hands outside this, and you can actually pay extra and get little tickets for drinks, supersizing, etc. I actually noticed an eel shop recently that had one of these, which is even more odd - eel is often over $20 for a lunch. That just doesn't seem like a machine payment. But after you get your tickets...

You wait a little. They have two rooms on the ground floor here, and a second floor as well that I didn't check out. There were 2 guys ahead of me, which took 5-10 minutes. Actually, I say 'guys' since this is a curry shop and you'd expect most customers to be guys, but there was a fair mix of women here, possibly because it's a 'healthier', more authentic curry.

Or maybe the women come for the free all-you-can-eat boiled potatoes? I didn't test this, because the curry was plenty big and eating more than a few bites of potato would be a real waste of calories.

Well, here it is - Japan's #2 curry. I got vegetable for health reasons, and it was nice for not including any potato - almost all broccolis and spinach and things. The curry itself is on the thin-and-spicy side, more what I think of as the 'Indian' mode and not the fat-filled, sweet 'Japanese' style (which I prefer, of course). The dominant spice, at least to me, was something like cardamom or another 'sweet' spice. You'll note that you can order your preferred degree of spiciness, from 0 to 70. I wanted something a bit more, but let the clerk steer me toward the standard-order 3. I think you can take more, big man that you are. As you can see, the portions are 'college sized' for the neighborhood - with Meiji University's big skyscraper campus just up the hill, there's a lot of demand for stuffed plates. Let me know how it goes.

This is one that I have no interest in traveling to check.


  1. I've always wondered how they differentiate between spice levels 59 and 62, I mean seriously...

    I had level 10 - it was the exact same as level 3 and level 7. I think it's a marketing ploy. I also do not understand how they got ranked so high, it's mediocre in my book. Manten on the other hand, now that's a curry!

    L Squirrel

  2. It may well be a marketing ploy. I sorta want to go back, or go to another branch (I passed a second one the same day, in Baba) and get something higher.
    Have you run into the 'foreigners can't eat spicy food bias'? I have, many times. At Echiopia, I distinctly felt like the guy sized me up and diagnosed that I couldn't take it. Since you and I are of similar size, I think it must be my glasses that make me look weak and spice-intolerant.
    And we're still supposed to have lunch some time! How about Loup de Mer?

  3. Sounds good, Yabai-san from chow will be back in town around the 7th. I'll check on his availability and we'll get in touch.