Is there a more perfect and balanced dish than Hokkaido soup curry? Gloriously comforting even at its most basic — a whole chicken leg floating in a bowl of savory, spice-packed broth, and a rainbow riot of vegetables scattered atop — it is by far the most reliable way of hitting your daily vegetable quota when eating out in Japan. It is also eminently customizable: You can pick your toppings, spice level, amount of rice and even the broth base in some cases, making this the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure meal.
Fortunately, you don’t have to hop on a bullet train to Sapporo for great soup curry. These five, plus a few runner-ups, serve bowls that hold their own with the best of Hokkaido. Whether it’s an explosively spicy broth or a particular fried chicken topping you’re after, you’ll find one worth keeping on your regular restaurant Rolodex.
A word to the wise: though soup curry is fantastic for vegetable lovers, its broth typically contains meat or fish, and is invariably neither vegan nor vegetarian. For now, those on fully plant-based diets are out of luck.
Okushiba Shoten Hachioji Tashirojo
With not one but two branches in Hachioji (the other is near Keio-Katakura Station), Okushiba Shoten is perhaps the city’s worst-kept soup curry secret. Weekend queues are par for the course. Once you sit down, expect to wait anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, as each bowl is made to order with a precise combination of freshly toasted spices.
The basic chicken broth is wonderfully soulful, but the real star is the shrimp soup base — an extra ¥150, but worth it. You’ll want to drink every last drop of this creamy, velvety prawn bisque. The monthly specials are often worth ordering — last month saw a stupendous garlic-soy fried chicken soup curry. Consider throwing in some juicy Tokachi gyōza dumplings to soak up the soup, and don’t forget to cap your meal with Okushiba’s homemade yuzu citrus lassi, blitzed right before serving for a frothy, cappuccino-like finish.
Koyasumachi 4-5-5, Hachioji, Tokyo 192-0904; 042-627-0134; bit.ly/okushiba-tashirojo
Soup Curry Garaku
Located just off the north end of Nakano Broadway’s main promenade, this Tokyo branch of one of Sapporo’s well-known chains, Garaku, is perpetually busy at lunch, and for good reason — it’s hard to find fault with its soup curry. The chicken leg is a classic go-to, but the pork belly — charred, tender, laced with just enough fat — is also worth ordering.
Try upgrading to the special “mountain treasures” soup: with its miso-mushroom base and hint of soy milk, it is earthy, smoky and perfect for the dropping temperatures, pairing with any protein you choose. A special mention must also go to Garaku’s beautifully charred broccoli topping, and an add-on of melted cheese wouldn’t be amiss either.
The mediocre fried chicken is the only miss in a slew of otherwise brilliant offerings. Skip.
King Bldg. 1F, Nakano 5-50-3, Nakano-ku 164-0001; 03-5942-5101; s-garaku.com
Yakuzen Soup Curry Shania
Sequestered in a housing estate near the Yamanote train tracks and packed with cat-themed paraphernalia from top to bottom, Shania is not the sort of restaurant you’d ever just stumble across. Nevertheless, the lunch queues speak for themselves.
Here, the classic bone-in chicken soup curry is unusually refined (one might even say fussy), with a surprising clarity to the rich, spice-laden broth. All the vegetables are sliced and diced into bite-sized pieces; uncommon additions like snow fungus, wood ear mushroom, butter-fried eringi and pea shoots provide lovely textural contrasts. No forks required, as the chicken falls right off the bone. A gooey-yolked onsen tamago (hot-spring egg) is the ideal topping here.
Reservations are essential at dinner, as Shania tends to be fully booked by evening.
Mita 1-5-5, Meguro-ku 153-0062; 03-3442-3962; bit.ly/yakuzen-shania
Rojiura Curry Samurai. Shimokitazawa
With generous bowls of meat and veg, and a lush, full-bodied broth, Rojiura Samurai. has long been one of Shimokitazawa’s soup curry stalwarts. Its signature dish, a crispy chicken leg surrounded by 20 types of vegetables, is a masterclass unto itself. Each vegetable is treated separately to bring out the best of their textures — for instance, thin kabocha slices are broiled till blistered and creamy; eggplants, lotus root and burdock root are deep-fried; while fresh, peppery mizuna (mustard greens) stays raw and crunchy.
Two add-ons worth the extra yen are the zangi — hunks of fried chicken with ultra-crackly skin — and the deep-fried, garlicky broccoli.
If you’re lucky enough to live in the vicinity, Rojiura now does takeout and delivery. Netflix and soup curry, anyone?
Kitazawa 3-31-14, Setagaya-ku 155-0031; 03-5453-6494; bit.ly/rojiura-samurai
Though it doesn’t share the cult appeal of nearby Rojiura, the charmingly named Ponipirica more than holds its own when it comes to a hearty bowl of soup curry.
Simmered for over 12 hours with a medley of spices, vegetables, and pork and chicken bones, its soup errs on the side of velvety, almost viscous enough to be a sauce (especially if you opt for a tomato base over dashi). Meat-lovers may wish to order the beautifully smoky, salty thick-cut bacon and cabbage combination.
Whatever you choose, consider adding the tappuri-yasai (“lots of vegetables”) topping to your order, followed by a blanket of cheese. This way, you’re rewarded with a serious treasure trove of fresh, sweet vegetables, each cooked to just the right texture.
Spice levels are on the mild side here, so consider shelling out for additional chili heat.
2F, Kitazawa 2-8-8, Setagaya-ku 155-0031; 03-6804-8802; ponipirica.in
In the Waseda area, Tokyo Rakkyo Brothers (Babashitacho 61-9, Shinjuku-ku 162-0045; 03-5941-8455; bit.ly/tokyo-rakkyo) serves perfectly respectable soup curry perfect for a late lunch, with a good amount of heat to boot. The charred broccoli and sweet potato are particularly noteworthy.
Dominica (TM Ginza Bldg. 2F, Kyobashi 3-4-1, Chuo-ku 104-0031; 03-3231-1347) is a favorite with office workers in the Kyobashi and Ginza areas. The standard bowl packs in over a dozen kinds of vegetables, simmered just long enough to soak up some of the spicy, savory liquid. Those who love cheese are obligated to add the grilled cheese topping — a crispy, lacy, wafer-thin disc reminiscent of Massimo Bottura’s signature dish, “The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna.”
Few menus are quite as overwhelming and psychedelic as the one at Magic Spice (Kitazawa 1-40-15, Setagaya-ku 155-0031; 03-5454-8801; magicspice.net). Choose from a list of esoteric toppings: Camembert, Koya tofu, meatballs or seaweed paste, anyone? Its classic chicken curry, based on Indonesian soto ayam, is a dud, but the sweet-spicy pork curry is sublime.
Over in Shibuya, Rockets (Dai-ni Nono Bldg. 2F, Dogenzaka 1-17-2, Shibuya-ku 150-0043; 03-6455-0708; bit.ly/rockets-dogenzaka) dishes up enjoyable bowls of soup curry with an emphasis on fresh vegetables. Skip the somewhat-forgettable chicken and go for the simmered pork belly. And don’t be fooled by the “vegan” option on the menu: The soup base contains katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna).
Fresh, healthy bowls incorporating Hokkaido-grown vegetables are the main draw at Yellow Company (Oak Hills Bldg. 1F, Higashi 3-14-19, Shibuya-ku 150-0011; 03-5485-2723; yellowcompany.jp). Though the vegetables could use a little more variety and imagination, its soup curry bowls are still worth checking out. The beef tendon is especially good: tender, melting, luscious.
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