Mr. Sato sits down for a literal new level in massively meaty curry rice.

Like a lot of Japanese restaurant chains, popular curry house CoCo Ichibanya is always cycling new menu items in and out of its lineup. For example. if you stop by a branch of CoCo Ichi (as it’s nicknamed), you might see posters and banners promoting their new “The Shrimp Curry.”

▼ Yes the “The,” in English, is part of the name.

But that wasn’t what drew our ace reporter Mr. Sato into his local CoCo Ichi branch in Tokyo’s Nakano neighborhood. No, what caught his eye was the much smaller sign below the The Shrimp Curry poster…

…announcing the return of the Nikukai Curry.

The word nikukai is made up of niku, meaning “meat,” and kai, written with the kanji character meaning “mass” or “hunk.” As for why the “Hunk of Meat Curry” is back, the audaciously meaty dish was originally teased back in the spring as an April Fool’s Day joke from Coco Ichibanya, only for the chain to actually serve it for a few days by popular demand.

Now it’s made its triumphant return, and it’s bigger than ever. In the spring, the Nikukai Curry was offered in three “levels,” 1, 2, and 3, each with more meat than the last. Now, though, they’ve added a Level 4, with even more meat, and that’s what Mr. Sato set out to eat.

▼ The four levels of Nikukai Curry. Though Coco Ichi itself calls the dish Nikukai Curry, its official name is “Bam! Hearty Tender Meat Curry” (Horoniku Dokan to Gokai Curry). Prices range from 1,501 yen (US$10) for the Level 1 to 2,791 yen for the Level 4.

While Mr. Sato is no stranger to big portions, he has to admit his stomach isn’t quite as strong as it was back in his younger days when he could do things like eat cheese from a 1,000-slice cheeseburger by the fistful. This was going to be a lot of meat, so in order to keep from feeling bloated, he also ordered a salad.

Now, you don’t order something called “Level 4 Meat Hunk Curry” without bracing yourself for some dynamic visuals, but Mr. Sato was still shocked when his server brought his plate to him.

Remember, this is curry rice. There was so much meat, though, that Mr. Sato couldn’t see a single grain underneath the slabs of roasted pork loin. Looking at it from the side, there was a genuine wall of meat that the cook had built.

Lifting one of the slices of pork with his spoon, Mr. Sato found it immensely and enticingly weighty. It was as if he could feel the weight of CoCo Ichi’s determination to fill him with as much meat as possible before he got up from the table.

This isn’t an all-quantity, no-quality meal, either, as the meat is tremendously tender. Curry rice in Japan is customarily eaten with just a spoon, and that’s no problem here, as you can slice off as large or small a piece as you want using nothing more than the edge of your spoon.

CoCo Ichi even gets a little fancy with the seasonings, preparing the meat with a Chaliapin sauce that imparts garlic and onion notes.

Still, they showed restraint in how much sauce was on the pork, since they know that the reason you walk into a CoCo Ichi is because you’re in the mood for curry, so they let that still be the primary taste. For as crazy as the portion size is, the flavor keeps things pretty simple.

With so much to eat, though, you might find yourself wanting to shake up the flavor profile a bit mid-meal, so Mr. Sato began adding some sprinkles of the “Pro Blend Spice” Coco Ichi has in its condiment tray.

This is spice in the sense of allspice, not spicy seasoning, so you get more of a savory remix than an amplification of the heat.

By the time he was half-way through the plate, Mr. Sato was pretty sure he’d already exceeded a sensible calorie intake for the whole day. Of course, sensibleness was never one of the objectives for this meal, and in the end, he polished the whole thing off.

Going back to those photos of the restaurant exterior, you might be wondering why CoCo Ichi is promoting its gigantic meat curry with such a small, unassuming sign. It probably has something to do with the Nikukai Curry not being available at every branch of the chain. It’s on the menu at Nakano, though, and at roughly 500 other CoCo Ichi locations in Japan, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find, and there’s a list of the ones serving it here.

Also bear in mind that the Nikukai Curry is a limited-time menu item, with no firm schedule for how long it’s going to be available. So if you’re intrigued, you’ll want to clear out a slot in your meal schedule to try it soon, and, considering how big it is, maybe it’ll take up two slots.

Restaurant information
CoCo Ichibanya (Higashi Nakano branch) / Coco壱番屋(東中野店)
Address: Tokyo-to, Nakano-ku, Higashi Nakano 1-59-9
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

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