In the humble Tokyo neighborhood known as Jimbocho–home to music shops, book stores, and Meiji University –lies one of Tokyo’s tastiest curry joints, a greasy little shop known as Rice Curry Manten.
A-Button’s owner tipped me off about the place, mentioning that A-Button’s curry is a homage to Manten. Seeing as A-Button’s curry is simply divine, I decided to check Manten out one afternoon. In a country filled with curry that all tastes good–but all kind of similar– pursuing a place that comes at the recommendation of a local is a worthwhile endeavor.
Manten is tucked away in a small alleyway off of one of the bigger roads. There’s a beat up sign poking out of the alley to guide people in, along with a rich curry aroma that gently leads one to the shop’s entrance. Manten looks exactly the way you want it to look; located on the first floor of some busted up building, a yellow awning hangs over the shop’s frosted windows and ratty doormats, with a couple of bicycles and a guy smoking out front. Positioned by the shop’s sliding door is your typical Japanese shop display filled with the usual mock-ups of all the menu items, complete with hand-written labels with the names of each one.
The place is filled with salarymen on their lunch break and bums with nothing better to do. As I take my seat in front of the white counter, I’m presented with three things: A glass of water, a spoon inside the glass of water, and a small cup of coffee. As it’s already spring, the coffee is served cold, despite it being a touch chilly outside. I look up to the kitchen–positioned in the center of the restaurant, naturally–and see the two cooks hard at work preparing orders. One’s dumping some meat into the fryer, and the other putting the finishing touches on an order of wiener curry. Looking around at the shop’s walls, I spy photos from the shop’s past, a number of soccer posters, and, of course, a poster featuring a drawing of a maid holding a plate of Manten’s curry in her hand.
Since it’s my first time here, I keep it simple: I get an order of katsu curry. After about ten minutes, a deep plate filled with rice, curry and fried meat is plopped down in front of my face.
While places like Go Go Curry try to distinguish themselves by putting out curry with a slightly sophisticated taste, Manten embraces curry as simple, rich, and satisfying comfort food. The sauce is thick, with tiny bits of pork scattered throughout giving it a nice texture, and just enough spice to give it the right amount of punch. The cutlet is well fried and complements everything nicely, as cutlets should do in curry. The crispy cutlet combined with the thick curry and white rice makes for a immensely savory mix of textures and flavors that tastes both familiar and unique. It’s curry taken to new places, while keeping true to the basics of what defines Japanese curry.
On the subject of taking curry to new places, one of them exists in the form of the shop’s fried dumpling curry; something that I’ve personally never seen before. I ordered it the second time I went, this time at the recommendation of Garten’s owner. The juxtaposition of the soft dumpling filling against their crispy breading is what makes the dumpling curry another uniquely tasty Manten experience, but true troopers order something like this…
Of course, the most adventurous of adventurers go for that along with wieners and the jumbo serving of rice.
Further photographs can be found on my Flickr.