Dear Mr. Gold:
I'm probably the last person on the block to discover Japanese curry rice, but I'm now officially hooked. I've been stockpiling those squidgy sauce packets from Mitsuwa. I've gained five pounds, even though I recently switched over to chicken cutlets from the pork. And I think the hostess at the Hurry Curry of Tokyo on Sawtelle Boulevard thinks I have a weird crush on her because I'm there so often. But really, I'm just there for the curry. So my question to you, of course, is: Where do I go for more Japanese curry? This is seriously out of my control.
--Jason, Culver City
Has curry addiction made it into the DSM yet? Because I kind of know what you mean. Before curry rice, Japan was a fish-eating archipelago, peaceful except for the kind of mayhem you see in Toshiro Mifune movies and the odd incursion or two into Korea.
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It was only when the Portuguese showed up 150 years ago and introduced the concepts of pastry, animal husbandry and deep-frying that all hell broke loose, and it wasn't long before practically everybody was eating tempura, sukiyaki and doughnuts. Arguably curry rice was the most insidious of the foods introduced, a thick, yellow spice goo that probably made it to Japan from Portuguese African colonies, modified during a pit stop in Macao. It is more or less the Kraft dinner of Japan, at least in its omnipresence. It can also be quite good.
I assume you've worked through the usual suspects: Curry House, Blue Marlin, and maybe even the Japanese curry specialist Ducks in San Gabriel. I more or less grew up on the curry rice at Suehiro in Little Tokyo, which has the same slightly disreputable flair that it did 30 years ago.
But probably the most interesting curry rice I've had lately was at the newish Sugar Spice Café, a genteel mall restaurant specializing, oddly enough, in stylized Sichuan hot pots, seething mini-cauldrons of seafood, animal organs and enough chile to stop a charging musk-ox in in its tracks. I suppose there are Ladies Who Lunch, and then there are Ladies Who Lunch in Chengdu. Anyway, the chicken curry rice is improbably good, leaning heavily on the cinnamon and the cloves but warmed more than usual with chiles, definitely in the same family as Japanese curry rice but perhaps stepped up a level or two in intensity. And you can get bubble tea, too.
Sugar Spice Café: 227 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 308-3777.