Saturday, January 18, 2014

Nakamuraya—the oldest Indian restaurant that is not run by Indians

Shinjuku, Tokyo,

The first gift that India gave Japan is Buddhism.  The second one came two thousand years later in the form of curry (kari).  A few days back I was able to have dinner at Nakamuraya, the legendary Shinjuku area restaurant in Tokyo that is famous for its curry, and where—in the 1920s-- the Indian revolutionary-in-exile and founder of the INA, Rash Behari Bose, introduced it as an employee of the restaurant and the son-in-law of the restaurant’s owner.  (I have written about this earlier).

Nakamuraya is over a hundred years old, and the current location is a temporary one near the Shinjuku station that is being used while the regular location is being refurbished.  The entrance lobby has a display with framed photographs of Rash Behari, his Japanese wife, and photos of Rabindranath Tagore, when he visited in the 1930s.  Rash Behari acted as an interpreter for Tagore.

Japanese curry tastes different from Indian curry.  It is more blended in texture, more mellifluous.  Pieces of meat, potatoes or vegetables swim in a warm, unctuous, rich colored curry. There is less chilli powder, but lots of caradamom and other spices, including garam masala.  It is had with the ubiquitous Japanese sticky rice.  Curry is wildly popular in Japan, almost as popular as Ramen, though it is shorn of the fastidiousness and snobbery that Ramen elicits. There were parathas that we had along with the curry—with layers that were not too crispy so as to flake off, yet not lumpy that you could not distinguish the layers.  Alfonso mango sorbet served as dessert.

I had a long chat with the manager via my host who acted as interpreter.  The manager detailed Rash Behari’s story and enquired whether I was Bengali.  Rash Behari’s daughter was involved with the place for a while, but today management has changed hands.  Bose’s descendents still come by once in a while to eat.  Impressed by the food, I asked whether there were any Indian cooks in the kitchen.  There were none.  Nakamuraya’s name is synonymous with curry and an older Japanese colleague who had grown up around this neighborhood in the 1950s would come here with his parents when the family wanted a curry outing.   Nakamuraya has expanded as a brand and today you can buy packaged curries to take home that just need a 8-10 minute boil in hot water. 

Japanese curry is good comfort food.  It is not fine dining, but it commands wide appeal.  You should try it at least once.

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