If you visit Tokyo, one of the places you will probably consider checking out is Tokyo Tower. Its iconic status has been overshadowed recently by the new Tokyo Skytree — the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai — but it is still a great place to take in spectacular views of the city. It’s also home to a great, innovative eatery called Curry Lab whose stated mission is to “put Tokyo Tower on the world curry map as the center of Japanese curry culture.”
Standard Japanese-style curry is much different from the original Indian version, reflecting the fact that it came to Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912) through Great Britain, which controlled India at the time. The Japanese tried to emulate the then world leading British Navy, which included adopting the thick gravy-like stew with curry spices that was served to British sailors. While Japanese sailors didn’t take to it right away (in his book on the history of ramen and Japanese food, Barak Kushner describes the colorful reaction of one serviceman, who thought that curry looked like something that came out of your body rather than something went in), the Navy’s adoption of curry led to the introduction and popularization of curry in Japanese society as a whole. To this day, Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Forces continue to serve curry on Fridays.
In fact, Japan has come to love the stuff so much that there was even an attempt many years ago by some Japanese to patent curry. The effort rather displeased the Indians, to put it mildly.
However, the pork curry that I had recently at Curry Lab is certainly unique enough to warrants its own patent. It looked like Japanese curry but had elements that are perhaps more reminiscent of Indian curry. In particular, it had very noticeable clove taste as well as a bit of cardamon that I haven’t seen in standard Japanese curries. It’s a delicious and welcome twist on the otherwise prosaic curry recipe that you find at most restaurants in Japan.
True to its laboratory theme, Curry Lab has a vaguely futuristic interior design with large test tubes filled with various curry spices decorating certain walls and doors. There are small TVs around the counter so that you can watch a movie while you munch (there was a Disney theme the day I visited, which was perfect for keeping my young son preoccupied while waiting for our food).
Curry Lab also has paper placemats that provide all sorts of interesting factoids about curry. For example, it says that the best way to get a water insoluble curry stain out of your clothing is to apply a little soap and leave it out in the sun (the yellow staining comes from tumeric, which is degrades under sunlight). Very useful!
Curry Lab is located on the 2nd floor of Tokyo Tower’s welcome center and does not require actually visiting the tower itself. Their innovative dishes blending elements of the Japanese and Indian style curry definitely make it worth a visit.Curry Lab Location: 4-2-8 Shiba-Koen, Tokyo Tower Foot Town, 2nd Floor. There’s also a branch located at Tokyo Skytree. Business Hours: 11am-9:20pm daily Getting There: Take the Oedo subway line to Akabanebashi Station and exit through the Akabanebashi exit. Tokyo Tower is about a 10-15 minute walk to the north.