Food and Food: Asia and japan11 Feb 2011 08:45 pm

Full disclosure:

CoCo is a very big, very popular chain restaurant in Japan.

And: I wanted to hate it!

Now that I have that off my chest, I feel I can write about this place.

I pretend not to be a food snob, but the reality is that I sometimes am. More so in North America where I feel I can effectively judge a restaurant’s food by several factors before dining thereĀ  (another blog post, another time) but here, in a foreign place with little to guide me I tend to throw caution to the wind and experiment A LOT more. And so my mom, Mike and I found ourselves at an outpost of the popular CoCo Ichibanya one evening to dine on Japanese curry.

I know this looks like a dog’s breakfast (and it kind of is) but stay with me now.

Japanese curry is in and of itself a special thing. It is a bit like Indian curry in that there are occasionally potatoes and vegetables floating around, and there is a cumin and curry spice mix in it. But it is very soupy (like Japanese pasta), looks like gravy and, yes, even unappetizing at times. It is also served with the very moist, sticky Japanese rice which makes for a different experience from long grained basmati rices traditionally served in Indian curries. The most familiar of Japanese curries to westerners is probably Glico curry.

I cannot speak for everyone living abroad, but personally I become exhausted by the thought of eating here once a week or so. On these nights, I do not want to think about where to get ingredients for things I am craving. I do not feel like deciphering menus in other languages with hand written scripts that are difficult for even native speakers to read. In fact, sometimes I would rather not eat than figure stuff out, and I get extremely testy when asked “What are we having for dinner?”

You do not know the true freedom of pouring your own water until you come to Japan

CoCo is a great option on nights like this I think because it has the holy grail for restaurants for foreigners in Japan.

  1. not only an English menu, but a multilingual, regularly updated menu
  2. many locations
  3. western sized AND half sized portions at affordable prices
  4. a personal carafe of water at your table.

Add to this the ability to highly customize your meal, and the place is down right addictive. No wonder it is so popular with the US military members living on the island.

You could eat a different curry every day for a year. (Well maybe not, but I forget how to do permutations) You can pick the curry base (pork or beef) and the choices are nearly endless from there, from spice to rice amount and toppings.

So what did we get?

This first photo is my mom’s dish. Level of heat was a 0 (on a scale up to 10) and she got the lightly fried crisped chicken, not to be confused with straight up fried chicken, because they have that too. She got no toppings.

Meanwhile, I got the same base meat (the deliciously light, juicy crispy perfect chicken) at a spice level of 2 and went nuts on the toppings, getting cheese, eggplant and garlic bits. I drew the line at spinach, but I did add the free pickles they have at the table.

Off. The. Hook.

I was so pleased by my choices. The curry was slightly cinnamon-y and cumin-y, just hot enough for me, and my rice was not drowning in sauce as it had the toppings to help soak it up…yum.

While Mike contemplated the seasonal special of deep fried oysters, he ultimately went with the same thing my mom and I did: lightly crisped chicken, with a side of a soft boiled egg. He got a spice level of 4, and said it was fairly spicy. I agree; I could never finish a plate by myself. The spice levels are so subjective you naturally could never get it right on the first try, but if you have a tongue for spicy curries straight out of Thailand, you will likely be satisfied with a 4 as as a starting point.

Allergy restricted menu and the main stay when eating spicy foods: milk!

What more is there to say? CoCo is quick, fairly fresh for fast food and tasty. They even have low allergen menu items, which is something that can be very difficult for people with eating restrictions (egg, milk, wheat, nuts etc) to manage when in Japan. I would not say it is worth wasting a dinner on if you are only in Japan for a short vacation, but is great if you are stuck, overwhelmed or just need a safe English harbour in the storm of Japanese.

I’ve gone on long enough. CoCo is just kind of a cool place. Both Mike and my mom woke up in the middle of the night with heartburn, but oddly enough I was fine, even though I have a very touchy stomach at times.

CoCo “Ichi”

Various locations all over Japan and Asia
open late to 24 hours depending on the location
Multilingual menu (English, Russian, Arabic and others)

One Response to “coco ichibanya curry, various locations”

  1. on 17 Feb 2011 at 7:16 pm Kate

    I love Curry House! Well, that is what we call it in Hawaii. Here they call it by the real name I suppose. Well documented… and really useful for anyone who’s never been!