Sunday, February 22, 2009

Three Ways to Enjoy Japanese Curry Rice

Thanks to Deas from Rocking in Hakata for organising this months Japan Blog Matsuri. It's really important to me to have the support of the j-blogger community. I only hope I can be a more regular contributor.

I don't know about you, but curry has always been a comfort food for me. When you are a long way from home in strange place it's important to have something that fills you up and makes you feel warm inside. Japanese curry may not have the same kick as a vindaloo, but it sure hits the spot on a cold winter night.

As is the case with many things that are imported into Japan, curry has been adapted to suit Japanese tastes and fashions. Curry Rice (カレーライス) is nothing like a traditional Indian or Pakistani curry; it's not as hot, sometimes it's a little sweet and it 's always served on a bed of rice.

In my experience a lot of expats in Japan get stuck in the fast food rut for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They either won't cook for themselves or can't find anything they like in the supermarket (which I find hard to believe). There are so many alternatives to the food-that-isn't-really-food you find at Macca's and Burger King.

Even if you don't live in Japan, Japanese curry mixes can be found in Asian supermarkets, or Supermarkets with a Japanese food section. Have you found any in your neighbourhood?

coco ichiban curryCurry is pretty easy to make, and it's something you can begin to take pride in if done well. If you make enough and store it properly it tastes even better the next day, perfect for when you don't feel like making lunch.

There are three ways to enjoy a Japanese curry, made from scratch, from a ready made roux, or at any one of the many curry houses found in Japan. I'm not going to repeat any recipes here today, you know "you can feed a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day, or you can teach him how to fish..."

What I want to do is pull together few resources to introduce you to wonder of curry rice.

Making curry raisu from scratch

You would have to be pretty keen to start from scratch, since there are so many good curry powders on supermarket shelves. But if you have time to hunt for the right ingredients, and the patience to get proportions right here are a few starting tips.

You'd think the maker of one of the most popular curry powders on the Japanese market, S&B Foods (e-エスビーフーズ), would want to keep their secret safe, but their ingredients can be found on the side of the tin. I've found S&B Curry at a Korean supermarket, you could do the same. In Australia, importers are required by law to label food in English, so there is no need to get the dictionary out.

You don't need to go to the trouble of doing the translation either (not unless you want to, it's good practice) because Maki has translated the formula for making S&B curry powder at her site Just Hungry.

If you follow Maki's instructions, they provide a good base from which to start experimenting. Once you've made the curry powder, you can just follow one of the many recipes that are out there on teh interwebs.

Here are the original instuctions for making S&B curry powder at the Rakuten Ichiba (【楽天市場】カレー粉の作り方:e-エスビーフーズ)

Making curry rice from roux

The first place I look for Japanese recipes is Cookpad (クックパッド). Cookpad has almost half a million user generated recipes, and 423 for curry rice (カレーライス のレシピ 423) The site is pretty good for searching and saving good recipes to your 'kitchen', but it doesn't seem to have any social tools, I guess they come with the premium service.

S&B Golden CurryIf you have a roux the process is pretty simple, and involves sautéeing chopped vegetables and meat in oil until the onions are translucent and the meat is browned. Japanese roux is generally sweetened with apple, and it thickens a little like gravy. The curry mix is added after the meat and other ingredients have been simmered on a low heat for about 2o minutes.

Curry rice is served on a flat plate, half filled with short grain rice. There are sorts of things that are addeded to the dish to finish it off; boiled egg, pickled ginger, or fermented soy beans (納豆), just to name a few.

I'm no expert at cooking curry rice, so if you feel you need a little more guidance Maki makes a mean Japanese beef curry.

Visiting a curry house in Japan

If you are travelling in Japan, eating something vaguely resembling western food can be kind of reassuring. Japanese curry, the way they make it in Japan, can usually only be found in Japan, so it's worth trying while you are there. One of the most famous curry houses, CoCo Ichibanya (カレーハウスCoCo壱番屋), has recently opened stores in China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Hawai'i.

If you're worried about being able to read the menu, CoCo Ichibanya has a Multilingual menu book . You shouldn't be too intimidated even if you can't find a CoCo Ichi, a lot of Japanese curry houses have a "point and shoot menu" with plastic food in the windows.

Hmm, plastic food...

So there you have it. There are many ways to enjoy the experience of Japanese curry rice, all it takes is a little sense of adventure.

Do you have a favourite style of curry rice? What are some of the craziest toppings you've tried? Does any one remember the competition they used to have at CoCo Ichi for the largest serving, something like, if you could eat it within a certain time you got it free? Can any one confirm this for me?

All of this blogging about food has made me hungry again.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Japan for two weeks and then back for more eduFire!

I'm in Japan for the next two weeks on a trip to see family and friends, and when I come back I'll be starting right back up with some new classes on eduFire, most of them free!

You can keep up with my adventures on Twitter in English @rainbowhill and in Japanese @jrfiction. I'll be doing my best to keep Rainbowhill's Language Lab up-to-date also!

Japanese for Beginners

My class Japanese for Absolute Beginners has now morphed into two classes, the original Absolute beginners class, and now a new and improved Beginners class (only slightly more advanced than the first).

Both classes will continue in two modes, one where we learn new phrases and expressions, and the other where we use what we learn in what I call a Language Lab.

The two free classes are

The two conversational classes are $7 each, and class sizes are small so you'll have plenty of opportunity to speak (if you get in early).

Fast Track to Fluency in Japanese

You might also be interested in my other free class, Fast Track to Fluency in Japanese. In this language 'hacks' lesson I cover techniques to immediately increase your fluency, stuff you won't find in textbooks.

Fast Track to Fluency is also paired with a Fluency Lab where you can put into practice all the tricks you've learnt in the lesson. Class numbers are limited so you'll have more personalised attention and the best chance to talk.

Other Classes

Check these and other Japanese classes out on eduFire.

My Background

I'm a CELTA qualified English teacher with over 6 years experience teaching in Japan and Australia. I'm currently working at University as a international student adviser by day, and an English Teacher by night.

At home I speak mostly Japanese with my wife and our two kids. I'm at an upper intermediate level of Japanese, written and spoken. I am keen to take on beginner to intermediate level students of Japanese.

Learning a language is a great way to meet people and learn about the world. Not only that, it's a great way to learn about yourself. Share your enthusiasm for learning languages with me.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Field Mice and Japanese Mnemonics

As a language learner I'm always on the look out for new ways to learn, and I've gone through quite a few. I discard some, and devour others, but I am always hungry for more knowledge. So when I was asked by a few Australian friends to put together a crash course in Japanese for their trip to Japan I wondered how I could fit a lot of learning in a short time frame, while still keeping it fun.

ぐりとぐら1As the father of two young children I spend lots of time watching them learn and play. I have noticed that when they are having fun they are most receptive to new ideas. Every night as I read to them I know that they are soaking up knowledge, without much effort. Wouldn't it be good if all learning was like that?

For most learners it's not, and learning a second language is hard work. When you are starting out there is a lot to remember. For many people we have the benefit of time, and repetition, where techniques like spaced repetition can really work their magic.

But what if you don't have a lot of time? If you have used something like ANKI or supermemo before you'll know how quickly things get out of hand if you try to schedule too many repetitions in a short time frame.

Language learning techniques are all Greek to me

This is where a mnemonics comes into play. Mnemonics may sound like quackery, up there with hypnosis and ouija boards, but it has a long and illustrious history that started with Greek orators memorising long speeches before the senate. Now you may not need to memorise Homer's Odyssey in a hurry, but it might help to know a few key phrases before you head of to Japan in less than a fortnight.

Janie is so KoiSome people recommend using crazy visualisation with mnemonic techniques for vocabulary. It seems to me more hard work than it's worth, particularly when every thing about a new language is crazy and abstract when you are learning it for the first time. Abstraction is akin to falling in love with carp, unnecessarily complicated and unnatural.

There are several methods used in mnemonics, including the original ancient greek method of loci, and even some with a distinctly Japanese flavour. The method I'd like to focus on today is the memory peg system.

Mnemonic approaches to learning Japanese

Japanese has it's own natural "pegs" to hang memory on, called gojuuon (fifty sounds). And while you can use sentences in English like "A Kindergarten School Teacher Never Has Much Yen. Recreation WastelaNd!" to remember the dictionary order of words, wouldn't it make more sense to take a native approach?

The Japanese have been doing this since the Heian period (AD 794–1179), when the Buddhist poem "Iroha" (いろは)was written as way to order the syllabary. The Iroha is still used today as way to order seats in theatres. These days the gojūon (五十音, literally "fifty sounds") is more common as a way to order things. Conveniently enough, it's also found on Japanese cell phones (けいたい).

This means it's really easy to pick up, because it's repeated everywhere! All you have to do is hang something on those pegs that is kind of memorable, like a children’s story, and then keep building from there.

Here's something I prepared a little earlier for my class. A reading of the children's classic "Guri and Gura's A I U E O" (ぐりとぐらのあいうえお) text by Rieko Nakagawa and illustrations by Yuriko Yamawaki, published by Fukuinkan Shoten.

If you would like to learn more about this works in practice, please join me for the free class on eduFire, Field Mice and Japanese Mnemonics or ask me about it on twitter.

Do you use mnemonic devices when you study Japanese? What other memory aiding tricks have you developed?