Why is the curry so spicy? That is a question that Masahiro Sakurai sort of asked during the live-streamed Nintendo Treehouse presentation of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at E3 2018. Wow… that seems so long ago, in a pre-corona world. He wondered if people outside of Japan understood that the curry is burning and spicy which the Treehouse members replied they knew it’s spicy. It’s pretty obvious this food is burnin’ hot so I felt the question was strange at first but then it got me wondering if the Treehouse team actually understood the backstory and history of the Japanese Curry Rice.
But why? Why even add curry into the game?
First, let’s look at the series this item is from: the Kirby series. In his games, Kirby can inhale this spicy dish to gain the ability to spit fire for a limited time. This was an item in Kirby’s Dreamland but was featured less often and in smaller roles in subsequent games. It re-entered the limelight in Brawl where it made its Smash debut. Since then, it has managed to snag three titles under its… rice. During a match, the player can gobble this meal down and not only generate blasts of fire but also move faster.
So why is it so imprtant
First, we have to look at how they took curry and rice and smashed it together. The idea of curry first arrived in Japan from India around the Meiji Period (1868-1912, give or take a few years). This period was a tumultuous time of expansion and modernization for Japan's government and military, not to mention the country's increased westernization. It was the end result of the bloody Bakumatsu Period, a war-torn period where the between those wanting to return power to the emperor and those who swore loyalty to the Tokugawa Shogunate who previously ruled Japan for roughly 268 years. This civil war was the Boshin War and heralded a new era in Japan. This entire event was set off when Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the US Navy sailed into Tokyo Bay to open Japan up to trade. He brought the full might of the US Navy, which convinced Japan that they needed to modernize in order to contend with such strong forces. Some felt that Japan should have remained isolated while others wanted to modernize. This was the Bakumatsu and, in the end, it was those who were loyal to the emperor who won. Even though they believed in “Sonnō Jōi” (Expel the Barbarians, Revere the Emperor), the change they sought was naught, as Japan began to modernize all the same. They imported western technology, ideals, beliefs, and customs. This eventually led to curry rice being introduced. Had not all of this happened, Japan would have looked very different now.
Let’s look at the cultural nuance of this item. Both Kirby and Super Smash Bros. were first developed in Japan. Believe it or not, curry rice is a staple meal in Japanese cuisine. When you picture Japanese food, you might think of popular dishes like rice balls, sushi, tempura, and chicken teriyaki. Certainly, these are all excellent examples of Japanese cuisine, but nothing can quite compare to カレーライス (Kare Raisu) or Curry Rice. This meal has become so ingrained in the Japanese food scene that it’s hard to picture it without curry rice.
That’s great and all but, still, why is it an Item?
So, what is curry rice? Curry rice is a staple in Japanese cuisine that might seem familiar to you if you played Pokémon Sword and Shield. However, the Japanese version of curry is far removed from both Indian and British versions. It comes in roux form (looks like blocks of chocolate) that’s melted into water to create the curry. The flavor is slightly savory and sweet but bland in comparison to Indian versions. The curry sauce consists mostly of carrots, potatoes, onions, and, on occasion, mushrooms and broccoli. Different kinds of meat are also used, including the ever-popular pork, beef, chicken, and even seafood and horse. Cheese is sometimes added as fried pork cutlets, eggs, tomatoes, beets, hamburger, and more. Curry rice is seen as a national dish despite originally coming from another country and many families have developed their own unique recipes. This is basically the Japanese-equivalent of a home-cooked meal, comfort food or mom’s cooking. In fact, my wife, who is Japanese, follows her mom’s recipe when making curry rice for our children. The recipe was originally made by her grandmother who passed it down. The additional ingredient is beets, which makes the sauce a tad bit redder than usual.
Curry rice is often eaten for school lunch, where it’s beloved by both students and teachers. Curry rice day is always a fun day because not only is it delicious, but you get seconds as well. Many restaurants also serve curry rice including sushi restaurants, western restaurants (Denny’s for an example), and more. Even the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) who basically live on this meal. Curry rice is also a popular camping dish, with many families cooking it during camp trips (again, SwSh curry dex). It’s easy to make, easy to serve, easy to store and keep, and it’s delicious, not to mention customizable. You can add anything you want, including the spiciness!
We get it’s spicy bit
Ah, the spice! The curry roux comes in different spiciness levels and flavors, such as apple or honey. Bar-none the more popular types are 甘口 (Amakuchi, sweet) and 辛口 (Karakuchi, spicy). However,マイルド (Mairudo, mild) is sometimes seen to differentiate between the mild and the spicy. 中辛 (Chūkara, medium spicy) is also used on occasion. In the above graphic for the popular Curry Rice restaurant chain, Coco Ichibanya, it lists 普通 (Futsuu) or “standard”. Then, after that, you go into the Do’s where there are numbered rankings. The best way to translate them is “degrees.” So there’s the 一度 (Ichido, First degree) to sometimes 五度 (Godo, fifth), 六度 (Rokudo, sixth), or even 八度 (Hachido, eighth). It’s unknown what degree the Superspicy Curry item is, but I would venture a 十度 (Jyūdo, tenth). Or maybe 百度 (Hyakudo, one-hundredth) considering flames are shooting out. The hottest instant curry available in Japan is the 18 Curry (しゅうはつかれー, Jyūhachi Curry) as it’s intended for people 18 years and older. So maybe it’s a bit above that.
Curry rice is an extremely important national dish that managed to integrate itself wholeheartedly into Japanese cuisine. You would be hard-pressed to not find this meal in a restaurant in at least one of its forms; curry bread, curry-flavored potato chips, curry udon and ramen, even curry pizza. It’s managed to curry favor in video gaming by being included in Smash, Kirby, Pokémon, Monster Hunter, The Legend of Zelda, Story of Seasons/Harvest Moon, and just to name a few!
Going back to what Sakurai said, I think he was asking if he understood what the Superspicy Curry is and why it was included. I also think Sakurai’s question indicates a common Japanese trend towards a curiosity of Japanese food culture in foreign countries. I would be rich by now if I got100¥ ($1) when I heard “Do you eat sushi in America?”, “Wow, you are good at using chopsticks!”, “Do you eat rice or bread for every meal?” and “Is this your first time to have ramen?” Sakurai was curious if the Treehouse members as well as you the audience, understood exactly what this Superspicy Curry was! And now you know!
So why is the Superspicy Curry Rice spicy? Because it’s a staple food item in Japan, they love it, and there are curry levels only fit for grown adults, foxes, jokers, crocodiles, robots, dragons, black amorphous blobs, etc. That’s why! Give it a try and I’m sure you will enjoy it! If you want to check out some Japanese curry rice recipes, you can here! I even made curry rice for my friends and family back in America so the ingredients are available. Perhaps wait till the grocery stores are safe to enter, though.
Author’s Note: Curry rice was one of the first things that was served to me when I first traveled to Japan well over a decade ago. Even now, after ten years of living in Japan, I am always excited to see this stuff and always appreciate to see it’s inclusion in games.