The "Indo Karii" at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, Tokyo plus the three degrees of curry hotness

One more about curry! Since some of you asked for this, here’s how to figure out which level of hotness a curry mix is, if you get one that has Japanese packaging. You’ll also get to learn a few kanji characters!

This is amakuchi or “mild”. It literally means “sweet mouth”.

curry-amakuchi.png

This one is chuukara or “medium hot”.

curry-chuukara.png

And this is karakuchi or “hot” - or, literally “hot (spicy) mouth”. Notice that it uses the same kara 辛 kanji from chuukara and the kuchi kanji from amakuchi?

curry-karakuchi.png

The above three are the standard levels of hotness. In recent years you may occasionally encounter the kanji below. Read gekikara (notice the 2nd kanji is kara for “hot” or “spicy” again), it means “extremely (or dramatically) hot”. You can expect this to be very very spicy.

curry-gekikara.png

While we’re at it, here’s another kanji combo (not related to curry) you might see around Japan. Notice it uses the same 激 character as gekikara. Read gekiyasu, it means “extremely cheap” and denotes something that’s on sale, or, well, being sold cheap (according to the seller).

gekiyasu.png

Nakamuraya’s “Indo Karii”

By the way, my favorite restaurant curry in Japan is available at the venerable Shinjuku Nakamuyara main restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Like Taimeiken in Nihonbashi, Rupa in the main Shinjuku Nakamuraya building is a shinise yoshoku (Western style Japanese cuisine) restaurant (they also have some chuuka or Japanese-style Chinese dishes too), that has been in business for more than 80 years. Unlike Taimeiken though, whose operation is basically limited to 2 restaurants and a deli counter at the nearby Mitsukoshi, Shinjuku Nakamuraya has expanded considerably since its humble origins. The company now manufactures and sells snacks, baked and packaged goods via various department stores and other places, as well as operating 20 restaurants and bakeries. Their steamed buns (nikuman and anpan) are even more famous than their curry. While I think there are better manjuu to be had elsewhere, their curry remains a personal favorite after all these years.

The main Shinjuku Nakamuraya building, which houses 3 restaurants, a tea salon, a casual bakery, and a food boutique, has been open at the same address in busy Shinjuku since 1909. Here’s their storefront. Most people head to Rupa, the retro-casual yet still elegant (white glove service) yoshoku/chuuka restaurant on the 2nd floor (1st floor for Europeans).

nakamuraya-kanban.jpg

nakamuraya-kanban2.jpg

The walls right in front of the Rupa restaurant entrance are lined with velvet-lined, glass-front showcases that display family photographs and models of the food to be had within.

nakamuraya-showcase.jpg

And this is their most famous dish, chicken indo karii (インド・カリー) You’ll notice that the they write the ‘curry’ part as karii as opposed to the usual kareh. It turns out there’s a reason for this. While ‘rice curry’ was initially called “karii” in Japan, it gradually changed to “kareh”. But the Nakamuya founders were actually basing their curry recipe on one from India. One of their daughters married Rash Behari Bose, a leader of the Indian Independence Movement who was living in exile in Japan. Bose joined the Nakamuraya company as an executive and introduced ‘real’ Indian recipes to the family. They’ve stuck to the “karii” way of pronouncing “curry” ever since, probably to differentiate it from the increasingly European-style curry served elsewhere.

nakamuraya-curry1.jpg

As a child, going to Shinjuku Nakamuraya was a big treat for me. We used to live in Hachioji, on the Chuo (Central) line, and Shinjuko was the big ‘outings’ town for us. While my mom and sister sampled the whole menu, I stubbornly stuck to the same choices time after time: Indo Karii, followed by a big chocolate parfait. (I wish I still have my 10-year old self’s metabolism, that’s for sure.) I finally made my way back to Nakamuraya last year, and while I skipped the chocolate parfait dessert, I made sure to have the Indo Karii. It was almost exactly as I remembered it; the curry served in an elegant sauce boat, with fukujinzuke, rakkyo and some vegetable pickles, plus grated Parmesan cheese, on the side. And the rice, of course.

nakamuraya-curry2.jpg

When I tasted it though, I had a strange revelation. This curry didn’t taste like Japanese curry at all. In fact it tasted very similar to the curry dishes I got from my local Indial takeout - especially their korma, though a bit more spicy. What do you know? My favorite childhood curry turns out to be as “authentic” an Indian-type curry as you could get in Japan in those days.

Shinjuku Nakamuraya is scheduled to close down their whole main store for major renovations on October 19, 2011, to reopen in 2014. But they will be operating a temporary store on the 6th floor of the Takano building, which is right around the corner. As a matter of fact, Nakamuraya’s Indo Karii followed by a fruity dessert from Takano Fruit Parlor, another Tokyo shinise, sounds like a great lunch to me.

Practical Details

  • Shinjuku Nakamuraya official website (Japanese only)
  • Shinjuku Nakamuraya main store - until October 19, 2011: Shinjuku 3-26-13. Exit from the East entrance of JR Shinjuku station and walk 3 minutes, or the A-6 exit from the Shinjuku Metro station. Open 11:30 - 22:00. Rupa does not take reservations.
  • Takano building - from November 15, 2011: The temporary restaurant will be on the 6th floor. I’ll post the opening hours when they’re posted on the official web site. The Takano Building is located at Shinjuku 3-26-13, right next to the Nakamuraya building. (Same public transportation).
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8 comments so far...

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Re: The "Indo Karii" at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, Tokyo plus ...

One of my favourite memories of Japan was eating at a curry place in Isesaki that was run by folks who had immigrated from India. The menu had a large selection of Japanese curry, then a smaller separate list of "Indo curry". Even the mildest of these was so hot that they gave you a small dish of ice cream for free if you finished it. ^_^

Rick | 12 September, 2011 - 17:44

Re: The "Indo Karii" at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, Tokyo plus ...

Love this article! Makes me feel very nostalgic about living in Japan. I've never been to this restaurant but will make sure I go there next time.

anon. | 12 September, 2011 - 18:31

Re: The "Indo Karii" at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, Tokyo plus ...

Mmm, Indian curry. As much as I love Japanese style (and European style in turn) curry, I still personally think that Indian style curry is the best. This somehow reminds me of the manga "Addicted to Curry". I recall there being an article on this site on that manga. Was there ever one?

I believe googling that manga led me to this site somehow and I've been following it ever since.

First time commenter. I really like your recipes and have tried a few to great success. Thanks for all the good food ever since I found you.

Aurey | 12 September, 2011 - 20:08

Re: The "Indo Karii" at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, Tokyo plus ...

Thanks for the note on the indo-karii.

Rash Behari Bose, while not central to the narrative of Indian Freedom struggle, was a key figure in the militant/extremist non-satyagrahi freedom movement. I knew that he spent a long time in Japan, but didn't know that he was a part of the Nakamuraya group, or contributed a recipe there!

bv | 12 September, 2011 - 20:10

Re: The "Indo Karii" at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, Tokyo plus ...

The mention of steamed buns made me curious; where would you go to find the perfect manjuu in Japan?

And thank you for continuing to write, I love reading all your posts and articles!

Anayokari | 12 September, 2011 - 21:54

Characters for spiciness & Vermont Curry awesomeness

Thanks so much for those!! I shop all the time at a lot of (Bay Area) Japanese stores and can muddle my way through most things, some foods are a bit more intimidating than others. I've saved a snapshot of this article in my phone's image directory for easy reference when shopping. Thanks again!

BTW we had gotten a box of Vermont Curry before your articles because it seemed so ... funny, but never got the nerve up to make it. The day your article came out, my SO got the fresh veg and chicken on the way home and we had it that night! So good! The flavours are so different from what I'd expect but it's soooooo good. It smells (and tastes) so homey and delicious. We ran out of rice halfway through the leftovers (which are surprisingly good as well! It holds up really great in the fridge, super good for making a big batch and having it through the week.) and had it over egg noodles like a stroganoff - it was super yummy that way too! I'm in love with the stuff now, it's surprisingly versatile!! Thanks so much for the article on it!

Kelly M. | 12 September, 2011 - 22:32

Re: The "Indo Karii" at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, Tokyo plus ...

Reading your title, I thought the Indo Karii you mean is Indonesian Curry (because we do have one, and the picture really does looks like it) hahahah...

I love curry! They always taste good even if you translate it to many different cuisine. My mom use to serve us chicken curry when I was a kid.

So sad that the place I live now has so little selection of curry, not to mention expensive T_T

Jane | 13 September, 2011 - 08:11

Re: The "Indo Karii" at Nakamuraya in Shinjuku, Tokyo plus ...

Those curries look really tasty. :D The only styles of curries I've tried are Indian and Thai; I prefer Indian because it's less sweet (my favorite is chicken korma <3). Would that mean that I'd prefer Japanese, too? :D

Do you like Thai curry, or do you not care for the sweetness of it, as well? :)

Alyssa | 14 September, 2011 - 17:48

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