CoCo Ichibanya undergoes a drastic change in color scheme, so how about the food?

Although to those living outside Japan it may not spring immediately to mind, curry is easily a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine. Their take on the spicy sauce is certainly something I would recommend to anyone visiting Japan from abroad. However, due to the ingredients used, people with certain dietary restrictions may not be able to enjoy it as freely.

Such is the case of Muslims who adhere to the Islamic dietary laws that define foods as halal, or permissible to eat. So, in an effort to reach out to this growing market in Japan, leading curry restaurant chain CoCo Ichibanya (affectionately called CoCo Ichi) opened its first halal exclusive location in Tokyo on 25 September.

In order to get an unbiased opinion of this groundbreaking CoCo Ichi, we sent a reporter who doesn’t have a shred of dietary standard in him: Mr. Sato.

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The halal CoCo Ichi is located in Akihabara and was formerly a ramen shop managed by the same company called Menya CoCo Ichi.

Previously one of the seven locations in Japan of its kind, it was renovated in August and converted into the uniquely green storefront that stood before Mr. Sato as he approached.

The color scheme was surprising to our reporter who, like most people in Japan, had the classic yellow signage firmly ingrained in his mind when envisioning a CoCo Ichi. He thought it kind of looked like a golfing supply store. It was probably a smart idea to distinguish it from other CoCo Ichis though, to avoid any confusion.

At first, Mr. Sato had expected a nearly vegetarian selection, but was surprised to find the halal menu to be quite meaty. It wasn’t as wide-ranging as the regular places’ and, of course, pork was nowhere to be seen, but there was plenty of chicken and beef that were all certified to have been slaughtered and processed in accordance with Islamic law by the Japan Asia Halal Association.

Mr. Sato ordered the Chicken Keema Curry with a Chicken Cutlet topped with vegetables and cheese smothered in a regular spicy curry for 1,550 yen (US$14). Judging by the menu it didn’t look any different from the dishes served at a regular CoCo Ichi.

However, looking at it face-to-roux, the curry did have a lighter hue to it. Likewise the taste was much lighter than regular CoCo Ichi curry.

That sounds bad unless you’re familiar with the chain. CoCo Ichi could be described as the McDonald’s of curry restaurants in Japan, in that subtle, refined tastes aren’t what it’s known for. Their food is tasty, but its a rather simple tastiness.

However, served halal, the textures such as the crispiness of the vegetables and the creaminess of the cheese were accentuated. It was still pretty close to the regular CoCo Ichi, just not so in-your-face.

So, CoCo Ichibanya Halal might be worth a try for those put off by the regular chain’s bolder flavors. But as Mr. Sato saw in the restaurant that day, its real appeal is to those from abroad, many of whom have already taken to dining there mere days after its opening. Insh’Allah the trend may catch on elsewhere in Japan in the future.

Restaurant information
Curry House CoCo Ichibanya Halal Akihabara / カレーハウスCoCo壱番屋 ハラール秋葉原店
Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Kanda Matsunagacho 16, Uchio Matsunaga Building 1st floor
Open: 11:00 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Related: Japan Asia Halal Association
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