A new taste in curry, from Japan to the world

  1. Curry, culinary pastime|
  2. Japanese curry goes global|
  3. Notable players in the history of curry

Curry, a culinary pastime

From its roots in India, curry has evolved into one of Japan’s most beloved dishes, eaten at least once a week on average. Originally introduced to England during its colonization of India, curry eventually was made into a convenient powder after which its popularity skyrocketed. While in Europe, traditional curry met French roux and a thick, mellow curry was born that now forms the basis of Japanese curry.

Japan got its first taste of curry about 150 years ago, shortly after the country opened up to the world. Since then curry has blended well with traditional Japanese food culture, gradually becoming more refined to fit local preferences and undergoing various permutations. Now, after all these years, S&B is introducing Japan’s own curry to the world.

The Curry Road to Japan

India
India
Curry is born.

India

The dance of harvest in Cochin, India.

India Indian curry

England
England

England

A spice shop in England.

Introduced to England in the 18th century. First curry powder produced.

Curry is blended with roux and a new dish comes into being.

Japan
Japan
Introduced to Japan in the 19th century.

Japan

Curry evolves and diversifies to suit local tastes.

1923 Minejiro Yamazaki produces his own curry powder.

1954 S&B Curry sauce mix is produced.

Japan

1979 S&B Retort curry is produced.

Japan

S&B Foods promotes the Japanese curry culture.

Japan

Various types of curry are brought to market.

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Japanese curry goes global!

Curry lovers the world over are sure to enjoy Japan’s own version of this fabulous dish.

A chronology of curry and spices

Ancient India

Ancient India

The first curry dish appears.

1299

1299

Marco Polo’s “Observations of the East” introduces Eastern silks, Moluccan spices, the golden palaces of Zipangu (Japan), etc. to European society.

15th Century

15th Century

Beginning of the Age of Exploration in quest of Eastern spices and silks.

1492

1492

Christopher Columbus reaches the Americas. Later, spices indispensable to curry, including cayenne pepper and allspice, are brought to Europe.

1498

1498 The monument for landing of Vasco da Gama.

Vasco da Gama opens an ocean route to India. Pepper, cinnamon and cloves are brought directly to Europe.

1520

Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigates the globe in a westerly direction.

16th Century Portuguese natural historian, Garcia de Orta, discusses curry in his book. This is the first known written account of curry.
16th to 17th Century

16th to 17th Century Fortifications of Spain in Panama.

Spice wars break out. England, Holland, Spain and Portugal battle over islands and regions with spices.
1600 England sets up the East Indian Company.
1772

1772 A statue of the Queen of Victoria.

Warren Hastings, an employee of the East Indian Company, introduces curry to England.

End of the 18th Century The British firm of Crosse & Blackwell produces the world’s first curry powder.
Mid 19th Century Alexandre Dumas writes a passage about curry in The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-1846)
1863 Hiizu Miyake, a member of the first Japanese Embassy in Europe, writes in his diary about Indians eating curry. This is the first written account of Japanese experiencing curry.
1867

1867 Kobe Port of those days.

Japan opens to the outside world. European dishes, including curry, begin appearing in Japan.

1872

1872

A Japanese cooking book describes how to cook curry.

1886 Curry dishes begin appearing in Japan’s restaurants and are quite expensive.
1910 Carrots, onions and potatoes become the main ingredients in Japanese curry.
1948 Some schools begin serving curry for school lunches.
1950

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Importing spices from India resumes for the first time since WWII, Curry sauce mixes are sold.
1968 The first retort curry is sold in Japan.
1987 Spicy food enjoys great popularity.
1989 Ethnic food enjoys great popularity.
1999

1999

Chilies enjoy great popularity.
21st Century

21st Century

A wide variety of curry appears along with curry, Indian and ethnic food restaurants.

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Notable players in the history of curry

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Notable players in the history of curry Warren Hastings
An employee of the East Indian Company in colonial India, Warren Hastings is generally credited with introducing a curry dish from Bengal Province to England in 1772. The first curries were served to the Royal family and included garam masala, garam paste, rice and other ingredients. These dishes were such a hit that they became common at palace receptions, which helped further the popularity amongst first the aristocracy, then later the rising bourgeois during the industrial revolution.
Notable players in the history of curry Crosse & Blackwell Company
The popularity of curry in England was somewhat less than what it would eventually become due to the amount of time and effort that went into its preparation. Happily, the British firm of Crosse & Blackwell (known as C&B) solved this with their invention of curry powder, which greatly facilitated making of the dish. C&B curry powder eventually made its way to Japan and a new taste was added to the country’s food culture.
* C&B is now a brand of the Nestlé Group.
Notable players in the history of curry

French roux
Indian curry is quite thin. In comparison, the European curry introduced to Japan was noticeably thicker due to the addition of flour. Also included was butter or olive oil, which made the sauce into a kind of roux and cut the smell of flour while adding a richer texture and taste.

Later in Japan, solid curry sauce mix made with flour, fat, curry powder and seasoning was invented, ultimately simplifying preparation of curry sauce. All that was needed was to make a stew of meat and vegetables then add the curry sauce mix.

Notable players in the history of curry

Minejiro Yamazaki
Explaining curry’s popularity in Japan is a bit complex. One theory has it that curry naturally complements rice (a staple of the Japanese diet for centuries) and thus resulted in curry becoming easily assimilated into the country’s food culture. Another postulated that curry permeated the country’s school-meal system, resulting in generations of Japanese weaned on the delights of curry from a tender age.

But the theory that has most traction is based on the contributions of one man, Minejiro Yamazaki, who eventually became the founder of S&B. When curry was first introduced to Japan many tried their hand at making a local version of curry powder, most with marginal results. But it was Yamazaki who distinguished himself, being the first to make a tasty curry powder with broad popular appeal.

Yamazaki first encountered curry in a plate of curry-rice in 1920 when only 17 years old. He was immediately captivated by its unique fragrance and flavor, and thereafter tried to make his own curry powder. Owing to scant information regarding curry back then, the task wasn’t as easy as expected. But he kept at it and finally, in 1923, tasted success. The flavor of Yamazaki’s original curry powder still lingers in S&B red can curry powder — by far our most popular brand and which accounts for 80% of the curry powder sold in Japan. And given the fact that his original curry powder formed the basis of curry sauce mix and retort curry, it’s generally acknowledged that Minejiro Yamazaki is the godfather of Japanese curry.

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