Posted 23 March 2004 - 02:39 AM
1009 University Avenue Suite #2
Honolulu HI 96821
Coco Ichibanya specializes in Japanese-style curry, a completely different animal (or vegetable) than Indian-style curry, its distant progenitor. The history of Japanese-style curry is a fascinating one, but it dates from the 1860s and 1870s, a period when a wide range of foreign influences were being brought into Japan at the same time. Curry-type spices were actually introduced to Japan by the British, which is why curry even today is classified as a kind of yoshoku ("Western food" - the term really refers to foods that were brought into Japan from the West in the 19th century), along with tonkatsu (pork cutlet), omraisu (omelette rice), and croquette.
Coco Ichibanya is Japan's largest restaurant purveyor of curry, and is one of Japan's largest fast-food chains overall, with 800+ stores throughout Japan. It has five outposts in Hawai`i, its only locations outside of Japan itself. The Hawai`i locations are called "Curry House" in a (perhaps condescending) attempt to make the restaurant's name more pronouncable to non-Japanese. The Moili`ili branch is close to the University of Hawai`i, and is a popular stop for students, including but not limited to the huge number of Japanese nationals that study there.
The main feature of the Coco Ichibanya menu is its flexibility. It's basically mix-and-match. You choose the size serving you want, the sauce, and your choice from the following toppings: beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, shabu shabu (thinly sliced beef), "kalbi" (somewhat more thickly sliced beef), tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), fried chicken, chicken katsu, fried squid, fried scallop. fried oyster, fried shrimp, fried fish, fried mini octopus, vegetable croquette, sliced garlic, spinach, kimchee (Korean-style hot pickled Chinese Cabbage), mushroom, mixed vegetable, eggplant, yuba-roll (tofu skin), cheese, natto (fermented soybeans), gyoza (potsickers), and mabo-dofu (spicy tofu). That's 26 in all, if you're counting. The cost of the toppings range 50 cents for sliced garlic to $2.50 for scallops. While "standard" single-topping curries are listed individually on the menu, as well a few "favorite" combinations, there is really no special incentive to follow these listings, as the price is totally basically the sum of whatever toppings you choose, plus a base price for your rice and sauce.
On the day we went, I chose a kind of baroque combination of tonkatsu, eggplant, spinach, and kimchee:
My wife chose the much more restrained combination of fried squid and mushrooms:
You also choose the amount of rice you want 300 grams (about 2/3 of a pound) is the standard serving, which adds a base price of $3.75. If you want more, you can increase in increments of 100 grams, for a price of $1.00 per unit. As the menu reminds, you each increment comes with a proportional increase in curry sauce, enough to "cover" as much rice as you're getting. You can in fact order a "plain curry" without any toppings for the base price, though few people do so. On in other hand, if you want less rice than the standard serving, your only choice is 200 grams for $3.25, or 50 cents less than the standard - one of few "non-linear" pricings on the menu. If you order 1300 grams of rice and successfully eat it (the "1300-gram challenge"), you get it for free and also get your picture on the wall:
I'd hate to be there when someone loses the challenge, if you know what I mean. . .
The easiest part of the choice is the sauce, either mild or regular. The regular sauce is very good - more or less the same kind you would get from your House or S&B roux brick, but less turmericky and a stronger meat flavor (primarily pork, I think). The mild is just that - yellow rather than brown, with a weaker flavor. Actually there's no real choice, because if you like Japanese-style curry in the first place, you're going to want the regular, which is at any rate only slightly hot. If you want more information on how Japanese-style curry tastes, or how it's prepared at home, check out this thread from the Japan eGullet forum
The Moili`ili Branch is in the Moili`ili Plaza, more commonly known as "Puck's Alley". There are always ladies waiting on a bench outside the shop window. They're not dour because of the restaurant; they're dour because they're waiting for the bus in the hot sun and a weird person is taking their picture.
Posted 24 March 2004 - 02:05 AM
It was good - went well with the tonkatsu. But the taste stayed with me for the rest of the day, which wasn't as good.
wow, that is unlike any curry I have ever seen in Japan!
Sounds more like Hawaiian-Japanese curry....
How was the kimchi and curry combination?
Posted 24 March 2004 - 09:57 PM
I always have to ask for extra rice, 'cause I can eat a lot more rice than what they give with the curry. Also, they've moved to slightly smaller take-out plates - they used to be these quite generous, specially designed plastic curry "cases."
I still often choose them over the other options at the Ala Moana food court (Makai Market). I especially like to savor the takuan (?).
Posted 25 March 2004 - 11:42 AM
I haven't seen any takuan at the Mo`ili`ili location - but they do have jars of "fukujinzuke" (mixed vegetables pickled in soysauce). You take as much as you want using a tiny pair of tongs. . .
Posted 25 March 2004 - 10:17 PM
And now I know! To me, all pickled anything served with rice is 'takuan' because that's what I thought it was called as a kid (yellow pickled radish?). But that fukujinzuke is good stuff. It's tempting to take a whole heaping spoonful of the stuff, little tongs be damned.
Posted 05 April 2004 - 01:49 PM
Posted 05 April 2004 - 01:56 PM
Posted 05 April 2004 - 03:12 PM
Pake, sorry to hear about the garlic! They had it on the menu a few weeks ago - but probably they just haven't gotten around to changing it. . .
Sad to say Coco has stopped the sliced garlic addition for a topping. Was so disappointed when I went there last night. Had to settle for just shrimp and spinach.
Mango chutney and curry sounds great. Especially green mango chutney - made with Haden mangoes. I can see how that would go with steak . . . or anything else for that matter. Great way of using up the grocery bagfull that you get from the neighbor with a tree. . .
Posted 05 April 2004 - 10:59 PM
Posted 06 April 2004 - 06:11 AM
BTW, I'm suprised that no one has ever come up with something like a "local-style curry" different from the Japanese, Thai, Indian, etc. kinds. Maybe something with a little coconut milk and luau leaves, like a squid or chicken luau with curry powder spices. And served with mango chutney on the side. . .