This is not a curry cookbook, although there is one curry recipe at the very beginning of the book. It is also not a guide book to the curry shops of Tokyo. It's a book about Mizuno’s love for all things curry-- his early curry memories, his first overseas trip to the home of curry--India, and his descriptions of visits to all the curry shops and curry he's tried in Japan. He has become a member of Tokyo Curry Bancho, has sponsored curry events, has collected boxes of retro curries and miscellaneous items related to curry, and, he informs us, has accumulated enough curry items to open his own curry museum.
The book opens with Mizuno asking his readers, “When was your first kiss?” He imagines the responses given, but says, “No, no, no. Not your first kiss with a person but your first kiss with curry”. He writes as if he is talking to us, persuading us to share with him our own curry memories.
He tells us the first thing that comes to his mind is a large elephant, as he describes his parents taking him to a place where a woman was singing in a language he had never heard before. The place was Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture and the name of the restaurant was “Bombay,” specializing in Indian curry. The elephant that he recalls was part of the store’s sign.
All this at the tender age of five--but from this beginning, he was hooked. He tells us when he was in Junior High, that he would save some of his allowance so he could treat himself to curry at “Bombay” which became his favorite curry shop.
As Mizuno grows older, he leaves his home town to go to university in Tokyo and is no longer able to get his weekly fix of “Bombay” curry. Mizuno then buys a guide book to curry shops around Tokyo, goes in search of a curry that has the same flavor as “Bombay,” and starts to work part-time at an Indian restaurant.
After trying nearly 1000 curry shops (and there really are quite a few in Tokyo), he comes across a place called “Delhi” which serves the curry of his memory. He learns that the owner of “Bombay” got his start here and is amazed that he could pick this one restaurant out of the thousands to find the same flavor as that of his first love. This sets him on a serious path to becoming Tokyo’s Curry Bancho (loosely translates to “Curry Boss”).
Realizing that being serious about curry means checking out the roots of the food, Mizuno travels to India where he learns that not all Indian curries are the same. Traveling to all the major cities of India, he experiences the various curries throughout the country. With the knowledge he gains from this, he continues to experiment with his own style of curry.
Mizuno doesn’t just sample the curries made in restaurants, he tries the vacuum-packed brands as well. Japan has an incredible amount of ready-made curry packages, some only available in the prefectures that make them. If you’re as much a curry lover as I am, then Mizuno’s memories makes for some non-stop reading fun – and will make you hungry for curry as well.--By Ernie Hoyt
This is the first of Asia By the Book's reviews of books that have not yet been translated into English--but that we hope will soon be available to readers of English, as well as (in this case) Japanese!