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Monday, January 27, 2014

Japan Has A National Curry & Rice Day

Under better late than never, Matthew informs me that January 22 was national Curry & Rice day in Japan.

WTF?! I'm not concerned that I missed it, but rather that there is such a day...

Proving I will never know everything about Japan, apparently Curry and Rice is so beloved in Japan, that it is almost a national dish of Japan.

Known as karē raisu (カレーライス), the dish was first introduced to Japan after the beginning of the Meiji era (1868) by the British... as they owned India until 1947, and while they may have robbed the sub-continent of her wealth, they paid for it by falling in love with Curry & Rice... which can blow your guts open with its spicy heat.

I should note that the whole Cury & Rice thing confuses me. Although I sound like I have a British name (John Andrew Matthew Stephen Joseph), and the fact that I was born in London, England, my parents are from India... and are real Indians... the dot, not the feather. Now... perhaps it as because I was raised in Canada after my initial three years on this planet, and my folks wanted me to fit in, I never ate Indian cuisine, instead chomping down on such white Canadian foods as Hamburgers, hotdogs, potatoes and god knows everything without a major spice in it.

As such... I never could handle spicy foods.

Case in point, my lunch with Matthew in 1990 in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

Matthew... whether it was because he thought that since I was of Indian descent... or because he wanted (and he wanted company) to try the local Indian curry and rice restaurant.

I'm unsure if there was a bottom floor, but I do recall us walking up a set of stairs to a very well lit restaurant, with a lot of tables... and maybe 15-20 customers... who all stopped eating and sweating to stare at the two gaijin (foreigners) who plopped themselves down at a table near (not at) a window. I do recall facing north, and that Matthew was opposite me.

Anyhow... I'm in Japan at an Indian restaurant... I, at this juncture, know nothing about Japan's love affair with Curry & Rice, so I expect the food will be pretty blah, which is fine by me.

The menu is dropped off... we order a couple of bottles of beer... Eagle brand from India... and as we stare at the menu, it seems obvious that they have a meat of various kind - pork, chicken, lamb and a veggie curry... with rice.

What I find amusing - because I'm a stupid gaijin - is that there are - in English - numbers detailing the heat level of the curry.

Matthew being the smart one of the bunch orders a 3 or a 4... which isn't so hot.

Me, being the show-off, I ordered the 8... because... just how hot can the Japanese make Indian food. There's no Indians working in the back.

When I said #8 to the waiter, he actually took a step back and said "whoah" or something like that... and when he went back to the kitchen and shouted the order, the cook came and peered out to see just who was stupid enough to order the #8.

Satisfied that I was an Indo-jin (Indian), he went and made the meal(s).

Some back ground. My parents made two meals usually... one for my little brother and myself, and one for them. Ours was meat and potatoes. Theirs... theirs was something that was so hot that when it was being cooked on the stove, spices would get into the air and burn the hell out of our eye... our lungs... and just plain make me want to poop my pants from the spiciness that I was ingesting through osmosis.

My parents always used to say that a curry wasn't worth a damn unless it was served with a bucket. In this case, they meant a fire bucket containing cold water to be used to put out the fire in their mouth.

I didn't see any buckets on the menu at this Indian restaurant in Ohtawara, which, along with ego, prompted me to order the fire - the Japanese fire. Why I didn't go to 10 is just plain luck, but I figured that 10 would contain a little bit of heat, and since I already have a twitchy stomach that has me feeling constipated if I go sit on the toilet fewer than five times a day, I avoided double digits - 10.

So... when the plates arrived at our table, I watched and followed Matthew's lead, because I didn't know the Japanese rules for engagement when attacking Indian Curry & Rice. Apparently, you place the napkin over your lap, wash your hands with the wet towel, pick up something called a fork and dig in.

Matthew decided to keep his spicy ingredients separate, while I decided I could at least get some flavor in my mouth if I completely mixed the curry sauce and meat throughout the rice.

That first taste of Japanese-Indian curry and rice is something I still wake up sweating from in the middle of the night.

Apparently No. 8 on the menu meant that the curry and rice would be hotter than the furnace of hell!

Not only did my face turn red, then purple... I began to sweat... and my tongue hung out as I tried to scrape off whatever it was that was on my tongue using my fingernails. Japanese rules of engagement? Fug Japanese rules of engagement!

I poured my beer into my mouth and let it stay there to try and cool of my tongue... but apparently whatever the fug the Japanese put into this curry, by adding a liquid it only made the curry angry... and caused the beer to bubble and then turn to vapor in my mouth.

I then shoveled into my mouth the yogurt sitting idly beside the rest of the hellfire... bit to no avail. Unable to talk that I was, Matthew being a smart and caring guy noticed my discomfort and ordered a yogurt drink - lassi - for me... which came quite quickly.... and which I grabbed from the waiter's tray and tried to chug down quickly... until my gag reflex remembered that I was drinking a yogurt drink. Gah!

I don't mind yogurt... but this yogurt drink was yogurty, and didn't have any fruit in it.

Anyhow... I ate my damn meal. I ordered it. I was going to pay good money for it. I was hungry. And dammit, I didn't want t o show weakness in front of the Japanese or Matthew... who also said his #3 or #4 was pretty hot.

That was the beginning of the end for me, as far as not having a tolerance for hot and spicy foods.

While Matthew asked if I wanted to go out riding around and shopping after we ate, that twitch in my stomach said I was going to be incommunicado for several hours as soon as I left the restaurant... in fact, maybe even before I left the restaurant. Still... I tightened the stomach and sphincter and had the most uncomfortable bicycle ride I've ever had... and barely made it into my washroom in my apartment.

Since then... after I had my girlfriend Ashley call me a wimp regarding my ability to eat hot foods, I built up my tolerance by making chili con carne increasingly more and more spicy with each dinner... until the time I nearly killed Ashley. Hee-hee-hee.

As well... I discovered that I was allergic to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, green peppers and lettuce, which was just swell... and that I was lactose intolerant... and that all of those problems would disappear once I stopped drinking over 2-literes of regular Coke every day, and going to less than half that of Coke Zero. Really... now I hit the washoom once or twice a day, but not like clockwork... I've seen guys here at work go everyday at the same time. That's just weird... and this is coming out of me.

Anyhow... Japan's national curry and rice day was January 22... and it is, indeed, apropro that that fact was delivered to me by my good friend Matthew. Good times, eh, buddy?!

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

2 comments:

  1. The restaurant, on the 2nd floor (near City Hall) was: "ン・オリジナルカレー" https://plus.google.com/104614408638502604021/about?gl=us&hl=en

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    1. And another link to the restaurant: http://tabelog.com/tochigi/A0904/A090402/9000084/

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