We get recommendations from someone who’s eaten more than 2,500 kinds of instant curry.

If you’re a curry fan and you haven’t yet been to Curry Land in Asakusa, you’re missing out. They’ve got a huge array of instant curry packs, known as “retorts” in Japanese, from all over the country, with hundreds of different flavors that are all neatly arranged by region to make them easy to find.

But if you don’t know what you’re looking for, or even what kind of curry you like, the choices can be overwhelming. That’s why we asked a pair of curry experts! Sanae Inomata is the chairman of the Japan Local Retort Curry Association and the owner of Curry Land. She and her husband Yoshiaki have traveled all around Japan trying out different local instant curries, so they know a thing or two about curry.

In fact, Mrs. Inomata has tasted over 2,500 different kinds, so she and her husband are just the people to ask when you’re looking for new instant curries to try. They didn’t even need time to think when we asked; almost immediately they recommended this “Hoshi-imo Curry”, made with dried sweet potato.

“It’s a rich and sweet curry made with sweet potato dried using traditional methods. It’s so delicious, it’s always selling out!” said Mrs. Inomata as she pointed out its spot on the shelf. Sadly, there was truth to those words, as that spot was empty, and they had no Hoshi-imo Curries in stock at the moment.

But we had to try their top recommendation, so after we got home, we searched and managed to find it on the JA Hitachi online store. It sold in sets of five for 3,580 yen (US$32) or 10 for 6,080 yen, which comes out to about 600 to 700 yen a package, which isn’t a bad price for fancier kinds of instant curry.

You know how soupy dishes are sometimes better the day after they’re made? Curry is like that, and we found the Hoshi-imo Curry to have the same tastiness of leftover curry. The thick roux was rich and complex, and we definitely caught a hint of sweetness. The dried sweet potato pieces were so soft and moist that the fibers were almost sticky. They lent an unmistakable delicious addition to the flavor of the curry.

But there was more than sweet potato in there; there was plenty of meat too, and it was so juicy and tender that it just melted in the mouth. In fact, every part of this curry was melt-in-your-mouth. Mrs. Inomata had told us, “If there’s one thing I want to leave for future generations, it’s this.”

The Inomatas’ second recommendation, brought by Mr. Inomata, is the Hitachi no Kagayaki Pork Curry (1,100 yen), about which he said, “Can’t forget this one!” “Hitachi no Kagayaki” is a brand of pork raised in Ibaraki Prefecture, and this curry was made under the supervision of the Curry Land owners themselves.

Mr. Inomata told us that this curry was special because, while people normally try to add fat to pork dishes to increase their flavor, in the case of this curry, they actually removed fat from the pork and minced it to draw out the best flavor. As ordinary people without much knowledge of food science, we didn’t really know what kind of difference that would make, but we tried it anyway.

We’re glad we did. It did, in fact, produce a slightly different flavor from other pork curries. The lack of fat actually seemed to elevate the dish into something a bit more sophisticated. We could really taste the umami of the meat, which was jam-packed in the curry sauce, but it also had a very natural flavor to it.

That flavor was actually kind of familiar, and when we asked about it, we learned that it’s because the first curry we tried from Curry Land, the Tropical Dragon Curry, also uses ground meat to draw out the best flavor of the meat. It’s a secret ingredient that you can taste, but not see. But there was one thing that the Hitachi no Kagayaki Pork Curry had that was extra nice: the very visible (and delicious-looking) chunks of meat in it!

It was a paradise of pork. Though we can appreciate the subtle science of using meat elements to make a curry delicious, we also very much appreciated seeing the meat in there, too. We usually like a good visual impact when it comes to food, after all–especially when it comes to meat.

Mrs. Inomata had a recommendation for a curry that had a visual impact as well as a flavor one: the Saba Curry (700 yen). This curry comes with a topping of mackerel. Mackerel (saba in Japanese) is a pretty ordinary fish, popular for home cooking, so we had to wonder if this curry was really going to be anything special when we hesitantly accepted the box handed to us.

But when we opened the curry pouch and poured it over the rice, out plopped a huge mackerel filet! It didn’t come out without a fight, either. It was so big that it kept getting stuck in the packaging. Imagine our shock to find that the box’s picture of a mackerel filet over the curry was in no way a lie.

We don’t even have to tell you how delicious that mackerel filet was. What’s even better is that the curry base was made with vegetables, so it’s actually a pretty healthy curry with a nice aftertaste. Its appeal was not limited to visual impact, that’s for sure.

All in all, we were very impressed with our curry experts’ recommendations! We had expected instant curry to have hits and misses, but in actual fact, each one was so good that, if they were served to us in a bowl over rice, we would never have known they were instant.

Curry Land has been around for about eight years now, although they were originally located in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward. It was six years ago that they moved to Asakusa in Taito Ward to be allowed to set up their Curry Retort vending machine (which, by the way, sells one of the best curries we’ve ever eaten in our lives). Seriously, these curry experts know what they’re talking about.

Still, you have to wonder if there’s anything new to gain after eating more than 2,500 kinds of instant curry. When we asked, Mrs. Inomata said, “Lots of new varieties come out every year, so there are still so many to discover and try!”

Those words were said with so much joy that we couldn’t help but be impressed by their love for curry. If you have a similar appreciation for one of our favorite foods, then make sure to stop by Curry Land when you’re in the Asakusa neighborhood to take advantage of their expertise!

Shop information
Curry Land / カレーランド
Address: Tokyo-to Taito-ku Nishi-Asakusa 2-24-7
Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays

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