Warm Up to Curry and Kotatsu
The depths of the lusciously tart Indonesian tomato curry circled my tongue. A myriad of Indonesian spices lend a note of bittersweet grit—at once earthy, fragrant and aromatic. There is a pinch of turmeric sprinkled across the plate, lending vitality to the otherwise insipid chicken. The meat is overwhelmed with robust flavors of curry and fresh basil. There is none of that fiery Asian burn; instead, the sweet zing of tomato sets in place, accompanied by beads of Japanese kokumotsu rice to form a rich textural collage.
Welcome to Yoyogi Curry. The quaint restaurant in Yoyogi Village has a compact menu of three curries, done simply and well—reasonably-priced, too, at ¥980, including a choice of soup or coleslaw salad.
The Indian rice malt keema curry yields the slightest tinge of heat and sweetness, and a half-hidden semi-cathedral of kokumotsu rice pokes from beneath its wings. Lean ground beef is left to marinate overnight in soy sauce before stewing, contoured by sprinkles of cumin and paprika. Autumn vegetables make an appearance here: eggplant, kabocha and red bell pepper are baked and patted down with cardamom, with a layer of coconut milk hidden beneath, ready to melt into oblivion—possibly the most delicious “Indian” curry to be enjoyed. Order the mango lassi—a traditional Indian beverage consisting of yogurt, spices and fruit—to complete your experience.
On another visit I try the butter lemon curry with scallop, the house special. It was presented with no reverence, unless a fallen lone sprig of coriander is considered so. But the dish in itself is charming enough. A rich emulsion of scallop butter and lemon is unified with coconut milk, and anointed with the fragrance of bronzed, caramelized onions that save the dish from becoming cloying. On both visits, I barely managed to unearth two petite pieces of dried scallops—understandable given its price point, yet its briny flavor is well infused in the creamy curry.
Of the three curries offered, there is none that I did not enjoy. What could only make Yoyogi Curry more deserving of praise is the warmth emitted from beneath the blanketed tabletop, better known as kotatsu—a low dining table with a wooden frame covered by a blanket or futon, typically used in Japanese homes during winter. Dating back to the 14th century, the history of these tables began with the irori, a traditional charcoal-powered hearth that acted as a stove on which food was cooked. The irori was further enhanced by the introduction of a wooden platform with a blanket placed atop to trap heat, then known as hori-gotatsu (literally translating to “ditch fire foot-warmer”), which eventually evolved through the Edo Period into oki-gotatsu, an electric kotatsu.
Each of the dining tables at Yoyogi Curry are equipped with a kotatsu (excepting the bar counter seats), ensuring you’ll be warm and comfortable during your meal, while the curries will leave you with a warm and happy belly— exactly as you would want during winter.