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September 19, 2019
Habits

The city’s best ramen shop has opened a second store

Contemporary Japanese Deli has splintered from its first site in Da Costa Arcade, opening a second cell specialising in Japanese curry. 美味しい (Oishi)!

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  • Pictures and words: Josh Fanning

Say hello to Japanese curry.

Weird and wonderful, spicy and vegetarian (is best), Contemporary Japanese Deli’s new store in the Market Plaza Food Court specialises in the dish that defines a quarter of all home-cooked meals in Nihon and tastes nothing like the original Indian dish.

Remarks

Contemporary Japanese Deli II
Market Plaza Food Court
61 Grote Street
Adelaide 5000

Mon-Sat: Lunch
Fri: Lunch & diner

Back in March, 2018 we fell hard for the story of the Deli’s Owa family and their contemporary approach to Japanese food.

Son, Shiryu (Sid) spoke respectfully about his business’ approach to Japanese cuisine and its inseparable connection to culture, so when he rang to tell us his Dad (Aki) had taken up a new lease with a new food focus, we were keen to learn more.

“Very, very popular,” Aki Owa says about Contemporary Japanese Deli’s second store focus: curry. Aki says curry is one of four main dishes cooked at home in Japan, the others being ramen, sushi and ‘hamburg’.

“Not hamburger with buns but hamburg – just the meat. That is very, very popular,” says Aki with a chuckle.

Japanese curry can taste slightly sweet and is more spicy than hot. Aki’s curry is not sweet though. The vegetable curry base is his family recipe and dates back to his childhood when his mother would cook a pot of sauce and serve with rice, carrot, potato and onion.

It was a simple dish and inexpensive to prepare – an important contributing factor to its popularity during the post-war years in Japan.

“Fifty or 60 years ago,” Aki starts, “Japan was not so rich country – was a little bit poor, so not toppings like this,” he points to the golden crumbed prawns and chicken that adorn the two bowls of curry before us.

“Just curry sauce with vegetables. But now we’re getting richer we see many different toppings. I have seen this over my lifetime, but the standard – and original – curry is this base.”

Bowl of rice, swimming in Japanese curry sauce topped with crumbed and fried chicken

The classic katsu curry – curry sauce surrounds a uniform mound of rice topped with crumbed and fried chicken breast

 

The base is a subtly fragrant and delightfully spicy and dense sauce that is difficult to describe due to its singularly and peculiarly Japanese flavour profile. It is umami, but it is also creamy, but not in texture – more in its visual appeal. It’s deliciously confusing.

“My mother taught me, how to make, when I was 24-or-25 years old,” says Aki who chuckles again when remembering his early attempts before he took cooking more seriously, and well before he migrated to Sydney, Australia and opened up a restaurant there a quarter of a century ago.

Aki Owa shares his childhood memories of his mother’s curry, and above: origami decorations at Contemporary Japanese Deli by Kishi Owa

 

Aki has a gentle demeanour that skips along the fence between serious and self deprecating.

“My second and third son – they prefer my wife’s (Kishi) curry,” Aki laughs.

“This is family taste,” he says with a smile.

Curry in Japan is built around the base sauce and adding toppings to suit the season and the provenance of your local area, Aki explains. The length of Japan, Aki says, means there are many special ingredients that can go on top of the bed of rice, surrounded by the vegetarian sauce.

“In Tokyo summer, they use eggplant and zucchini and that is very good season,” says Aki. “In the winter, seafood tastes better.”

Contemporary Japanese Deli’s second store in the Market Plaza Food Court is a completely, or “perfectly different” experience to Da Costa Arcade, says Aki, but he’s getting the hang of his new digs.

For CityMag, the fact he has opened in a new site with a new and dedicated focus on a single dish is yet more proof of Contemporary Japanese Deli’s authentic approach to Japanese food.

With a simple vegetarian curry costing as little as $9.50 and Aki’s mum’s “original” curry just $8.50, we implore you to try this unique dish if you’re inexperienced or well-versed in Japanese curry. Aki agrees.

“I explain to our customer that between Indian original curry and this Japanese curry – this is perfectly different. If you have interest, just try it,” says Aki.

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