Hokkaido in a Bowl
Unearthing a local gastronomic delight.
Hokkaido-born soup curry is not a traditional Japanese dish but not any less an authentic dish of Northern Japan. Known as a type of yoshoku, a fusion of a foreign dish adapted to suit Japanese tastes, soup curry is fairly new wave in Japanese food scene.
Conceived in a Sapporo restaurant, Ajanta, in the 70s, the dish is inspired by Indian curries, rich in spices but simmered into the Japanese style of a light broth. It can be said, at least in appearance, it is more soup than curry, however it is the combination of spices used in the broth that give it the title. Originally coined as a "medicine herb curry", the dish went through several variations including "magic spice", before settling into the soup curry we now know.
As with most Hokkaido native dishes, soup curry was created with all seasons in mind, boasting the freshest seasonal produce from local farmlands. Unlike the traditional almost gravy-like Japanese curry katsu, soup curry is made in a broth of meat stock, sometimes combined with a tomato or coconut base and simmered with a variety of spices. Thick or light, mild or sweet, every restaurant has a unique blend of spices and a slightly different taste. Boiled in the broth is a range of vegetables and a choice of meat, usually an entire chicken leg. In good soup curry the contents of the broth will be tender enough that it can be cut with the edge of your spoon.
There are no strict rules on how to enjoy your soup curry. The favoured way is to dip spoonfuls of rice into the broth, though some prefer to pour the broth over rice. There are also various ways to customise the dish to suit your palette; often eggs, slices of thick bacon and even cheese are offered as extra toppings.
One of the most important aspects of ordering soup curry; however, is the heat level. Spice complements the broth well and are often scaled from one up to 20. Some restaurants challenge guests to try extreme levels of spice, but it may not be worth risking the taste of the curry. Often lassi, an Indian yogurt drink, is offered on menus, both homage to the heritage of the dish and to stifle the heat.
A favourite among visitors to Niseko, soup curry is the must-try dish of the area with many local ingredients and flavours. It can be found at several restaurants in Kutchan Town and Hirafu, though my personal favourite is Tsubara Tsubara. Located in Izumikyo, just outside the Hirafu village, Tsubara Tsubara is famed for its soup curry and is often full of both locals and visitors. My favourite order is the coconut milk vegetable curry with spice level eight, which makes my eyes water occasionally. You cannot go wrong with the tsumire or “chicken meatball” and vegetable curry, too.
Soup Curry Goya have homemade curry pouches for those who want to take the experience home with them. Each restaurant's recipe is different and the simple solution to finding your favourite is to try them all.
Try Tsubara Tsubara, Niseko Curry Goya, Jungle Brothers or Markie Curry.
For more local gastronomic delights, visit our restaurant listings page.