Friday, October 23, 2009

Curry vs. Ramen

Ho hum. The new Japanese government is still trying to find its legs and the opposition is looking for a voice; meanwhile voters realize the promised brave new world looks much like the present one. In Sweden the media tries to whip up early election fever to sell copy, but has only succeeded in giving a a small neo nazi-connected xenophobic party some free publicity.

Or in headline form: "New government constrained by inexperience, previous policies, economic situation" and "Fascist xenophobes still dislike immigrants, other cultures". What's next - "Penguins admit to liking fish"? There's nothing much worth commenting on in other words.

Let's take a look at something a little more inspiring. On Saturday Asahi Shinbun took an investigative look at something really important:

Curry or Ramen ?

curry Rice

Homemade chicken curry and rice with potatoes, carrots and mushrooms. Leftover curry goes great with udon noodles or spaghetti; you just thin it out a bit to make it more like a sauce.

Curry - Kare Raisu - evolved from Indian curries. Today it's a spicy stew in a thick, brown savoury vegetable sauce. You usually eat it with white rice and pickles, though curry udon (udon noodles in runny curry) is also quite popular. It really resembles a thick European-style meat stew more than anything else, and the only trace of the Indian dish is the spiciness.


Ramen at Kyoto station. Old image; for some reason I don't have any good recent shots of this dish; I guess I'm too busy eating it to remember taking a picture.

Ramen is Chinese noodles in a thick soup with fried pork, bean sprouts, green onions, bamboo shoots, boiled egg, nori, corn and any number of other possible ingredients. It's based on a Chinese dish but has evolved far from its roots - ramen is sold in China as a Japanese food.

Both are simple, satisfying comfort foods; the kind that hit the spot when you eat alone, when you work late at night, or when you're nursing a hangover. Both trace their origins to a foreign dish but now have little in common with it. In Europe, pizza, kebab and falafel, originally from Italy and the near East, are dishes much in the same spirit1.

Anyway, Asahi polled over 7000 people on their favourite comfort-food to see which came out on top. So, which won?


Curry 57%, Ramen 43%.

Curry is more popular than ramen, 57% to 43%. On the other hand, while only 1 in 4 (27%) curry people eat it at least once a week, over half (55%) of ramen lovers indulged that often.

curry and ramen types

Popular types of curry (on the left) and ramen (on the right). Only types with more than 10% popularity is shown.

Which kind of curry and ramen where the most popular? For curry, more than a quarter picked beef curry, with pork, vegetable, chicken and katsu (fried pork cutlet) all between the 10% and 15% marks. "Real" Indian curry was chosen only by 6%; but then, it really isn't the same dish any more and can't be compared directly.

The defining ingredient in ramen is the soup, an oh-so-thick concoction of pig bones and vegetables that is slowly simmered and reduced for many hours. A dollop of the heavy soup is mixed with lighter, flavoured stock right in the bowl. Soy-flavoured soup came in first with over a quarter of respondents. Miso-flavoured and tonkotsu ("pig bone" - heavy and greasy) where about equally popular with the thinner salt-flavoured soup rounding off the list.

Me, I like curry and ramen both, but given a choice I prefer ramen. Hokkaido style ramen - thick miso-flavoured soup with corn and butter - is great, and so is tonkotsu ramen. We normally eat curry at home, but my favourite curry chain is Jōtō Curry here in Osaka. They do a fairly spicy curry with the meat completely rendered into the sauce that goes great with fried shrimp or a pork cutlet.


#1 In Sweden, one of the most popular pizzas is the "kebab pizza", with the contents of a kebab - garlic sauce and all - spread over a pizza pie with cheese and tomatoes. Cultural mashups are great.


  1. Firstly let me say, that if you think Swedish or Japanese politics are a little ropey at the moment, then at least neither of them have Gordon Brown for PM. 'Nuf said..

    On a more pressing point however, ramen is most definitely my fave and I am a little surprised, and a little disappointed that it scored below curry. But hey, you win some, you lose some. They must have just surveyed the wrong people, surely..

  2. Hi Ryan,

    No, dull politics is good. Dull tends to mean that nothing seriously bad is happening. In England you have a cathartic election coming up; in Japan we got the hangover from one of those. Right-wing fascists are nothing to laugh at or ignore of course (I've noticed you have a similar issue with a small party making lots of noise), but in Sweden the election is still almost a year away, so it just feels way premature to even start thinking about it yet.

    I'm also disappointed that my favourite didn't come out ahead. That said, I'm pretty sure this poll covered only restaurant ramen; had they included Cup Noodle and other instant kinds I'm pretty sure it would have come out on top.

  3. How do you do,Janne.
    I'm a woman studying English conversation and living in Ibaraki city of Osaka.
    I'm going to study at reading your blog.
    I'm sorry,I'm not good at English.

    Tonight is cold.
    Be carefuly not to catch a cold.
    Good night!


Comment away. Be nice. I no longer allow anonymous posts to reduce the spam.