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Friday, September 17, 2010

Beef Curry, Japanese Style: Muracci's vs. Volcano

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Volcano's beef curry, $6.95. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Volcano's beef curry, $6.95.
Modern-day diners may spot a box of Golden Curry at Nijiya Market and assume Japanese importers brought curry back from the port of Kolkota, or perhaps it arrived through trade with Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. But the story of Japanese curry is even twistier.

Curry ― the kind served by local Japanese curry houses like Muracci's and Volcano Curry ― actually belongs to Japan's tradition of yoshoku, or Western, cuisine. Yoshoku is the equivalent of the American love for smoked-salmon-and-cream-cheese sushi rolls. A few years ago the New York Times ran a brilliant article tracing the roots of yoshoku dishes like hambagu and omuraisu to the Meiji restoration of the 1850s.

In fact, it was the British who introduced the Japanese to curry powder, itself a European shortcut for the complex spice blends that British colonists encountered in India. That's why the Golden Curry box calls for Western vegetables like carrots and potatoes, why it's often made with beef (banned in Japan until the Meiji restoration), and why Japanese curry is often served over katsu, aka Wiener Schnitzel.

Muracci's beef curry, $7.95. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Muracci's beef curry, $7.95.
Unlike the one-hour dinners you make with store-bought cubes, Volcano Curry of Japan claims that its curry-making process takes a full day ― eight to ten hours of simmering, plus another twelve hours letting the flavors mellow and combine. The resulting sauce is thin, cornstarch-glossed, with that singular Madras curry-powder flavor bolstered by the umami from the chicken stock. Served with beef and vegetables over rice, the curry is something you can eat without paying it much mind ― at least until the sharp-edged, persistent heat makes you stop for a while, clear your palate with some white rice and a boiled potato, and then return to shoveling it in.

Muracci's Curry and Grill , in the FiDi, claims their curry-making takes even longer ― two days. Indeed, whatever they're blending and simmering results in a denser, oilier gravy, one where the spices sometimes come to the fore and then, as you continue eating, melt away into a unified wash of umami. It's not particularly beefy, like the best Japanese curries I've tasted (sorry, not in the Bay Area); in fact, the plate I received was vegetable-free, lumpy with the grainiest, fattiest stewed beef I've eaten since college.

Comparing the two, is there a winner? Not a clear one. I'd give a second-place ribbon to both.

Volcano Curry of Japan: 5454 Geary (at 19th Ave.), 752-7671.
Muracci's Curry and Grill: 307 Kearny (at Bush), 773-1101.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @jonkauffman.

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