japanese tofu katsu curry with rice on a oval plate

Learn the secrets of how to make to make Japanese curry that’s inspired by the iconic, Coco Ichibanaya House Curry. This homemade Japanese curry sauce is savory-sweet, rich and creamy with a rude amount of flavour. Pair with various types of katsu, vegetables and toppings for the ultimate comfort meal. (Vegetarian / Vegan)

soy meat katsu curry on a white coco plate

If you’ve been to Japan before, you’ve probably seen CoCo Ichibanaya House Curry with its big yellow bold sign. Curry rice is a highly popular and loved comfort food in Japan, loved by kids and adults alike. If you ask any Japanese person where to go for curry rice, they’ll direct you right to CoCo Ichiban.

CoCo Ichiban only offers curry (and some sides), but with a variety of spice levels and toppings. From classic katsu, seafood, egg, a huge range of vegetables and even natto! Not to mention, they are incredibly quick and affordable.

What makes CoCo Ichiban different is that their curry is luscious, glossy and saucy. It has a delicious kick that a lot of other places don’t often achieve. Their curry sauce is so flavourful it tastes delicious as is with a bed of rice.

We don’t have CoCo Ichi here in Canada, so it was a luxury for us to eat there every summer when we visited Japan. Our go-to was of course, the katsu curry.

Since going vegan, I haven’t had CoCo’s curry in a few years. In 2017, they came out with a katsu curry (pictured above) made with soy meat. I originally developed this recipe in 2021 based on memory, but since visiting CoCo in 2022, have slightly updated it to make it even better. Although it is not a complete replica of CoCo’s curry, I think it’s pretty close! Below is the vegan curry with natto and then the curry with vegetables and a soy hambagu (Japanese hamburger patty).

To describe the taste of this curry… it’s bitter-sweet thanks to the fried and caramelized onions. Then you’re hit with a bit of heat from the white pepper and togarashi (or cayenne), and then as you prepare your next bite, you get a hint of tang and sourness (the good kind!) coming from the vinegar, coffee and cocoa powder.

japanese curry with rice and natto on top of a white plate

History of Coco Ichibanaya

CoCo Ichibanya dates back to 1974, when Tokuji Munetsugu and his wife, Naomi opened a coffee shop named Bacchus. They added curry to their menu as a way to increase sales, and that led to opening a third restaurant that specialized in curry. They decided on the name Curry house Coco Ichibanya to as a representation of their curry that its the best and most delicious (ichiban = number one). The first store opened on January 1978 in Nishibiwajima. From there, the business took off and the number of stores was expanded throughout Japan and even overseas.

Ingredients

Now I won’t lie, there are quite a few ingredients that go into this curry sauce… but I promise you each play a roll and is well worth the outcome. A lot of the flavour and umami in diner curries come from the poultry used, like beef and pork and their stock. So, we have to incorporate other ingredients to make this curry just as flavourful.

  • onions: preferably yellow or Spanish onions
  • carrot
  • red bell pepper: you may substitute with more carrots
  • butter: I use Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter. If you prefer a creamier, less buttery curry, you may substitute the butter added at the end with dairy free cream or half and half.
  • plant based bacon or beef: I used Light Life plant based bacon. If you are not vegan, you may substitute with your choice of bacon or thinly sliced beef. Alternatively, you may also completely omit it, it still tastes good but please keep in mind it will taste slightly different!
  • vegan chicken bouillon: or replace the water with vegetable stock
  • Bull Dog Worcestershire sauce
  • Bull Dog Fruit & Vegetable Sauce: may substitute with ketchup
  • apple: or 1/2 small (40 g) banana
  • mixed fruit chutney: may substitute with jam, 1 tbsp of honey or sugar
  • peanut butter
  • Japanese curry powder: S&B or homemade
  • Japanese curry roux cubes
  • rice vinegar
  • instant coffee: or substitute with cocoa powder
  • red miso: may substitute with white miso or 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • dark soy sauce: optional, however this is to enhance the colour.
  • white pepper: or black pepper
  • togarashi: or cayenne

Which brand of Japanese Curry roux mix is best?

Growing up, my mom bought whatever was on sale— however we did have distinct favourites: torokeru & house java. However, here is a breakdown of their flavour profiles to help you find which may be the best for you: 

  • Golden Curry (S&B): the oldest & most traditional brand. Basic curry flavour with no additional sweetness— offers a vegan option. I love using this one because you can adjust the seasonings and add a variety of ingredients to your liking.
  • Torokeru (S&B): sweet, savoury and the perfect amount of spices to balance everything out. It’s also not as thick so you have the ability to add richness as you cook the curry without making it greasy or heavy. Also offers a vegan option (which I used for this recipe).
  • Java Curry (House Foods): similar to Torokeru but has a slightly more of a spicy kick to it. This is the one that Coco Ichi is said to use.
  • Kokumaro Curry (House Foods): also quite similar to torokeru but on the sweeter-side. 
  • Vermont Curry (House Foods): thick, smooth with a fruity sweet flavour. 
  • Zeppin (Glico): thick in texture and quite sweet, with an intense flavour from the spices used. 
frying and caramelizing onions in a pan for japanese curry

How to Make Coco Ichibanya-style Japanese Curry Sauce

Making the curry is quite easy, but does take a bit of time. It’s a labour of love that is well worth it 🙂.

  1. Fry the onions: a slightly different flavour profile than the caramelized onions with a more savory and smoky note (you may do this process simultaneously while caramelizing the onions). Fry the onions until a little past golden, it’s okay if a little gets burnt.
  2. Caramelize the onions: this process takes about 45-60 minutes, but is essential and adds sweetness and complexity to the curry. However, if you are in a rush, you can make pretty good caramelized onions in 15-20 minutes (see below).
  3. Cook apple and carrot: Once caramelized, add the grated carrot and apple and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Once cooked down, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Deglaze pan: Add 1 cup of water and use the back end of a wooden spatula and
  5. scrape off the caramelized onion remanences. Set aside.
  6. Roast bell pepper: this can be done over a gas stove or in the oven.
  7. Cook: In a large pot, cook the plant based bacon and remaining onions for about 3-5 minutes (the onions do not have to be really cooked down). Add the water from the caramelized onion pan and remaining 4 cups of water, and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  8. Blend the seasonings: Add the consomme, dashi granules, caramelized onions, fried onions, bell pepper, peanut butter, mixed fruit chutney and curry powder.
  9. Strain: while this step is optional, it makes a very smooth curry.
  10. Add roux and seasonings: chop up the curry roux cubes and dissolve them in a ladle to ensure there are no chunks of roux. Finish with butter, Worcestershire sauce, Nakano sauce, miso paste, instant coffee, cocoa powder, rice vinegar, salt and white pepper. Then simmer over low or 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.\
  11. Let the flavours mature: Rest the curry at least for 3 hours, ideally overnight.
  12. Re-heat: Add the curry back into a pot with water and bring to a low simmer. Stir in dark soy sauce and vinegar.
  13. Serve: Make any toppings you want to serve with your curry. Serve over rice with fukushinzuke and ryakyo (Japanese pickles).

The sauce will darken the more and longer you heat it. The colour is highly based on the brand of curry roux cubes used, how long it has been simmered, amount of water used and darkness of the instant coffee and dark soy sauce used.

step by step how to make japanese smooth curry

What to serve Japanese curry with

You can truly serve this curry sauce with anything your heart desires. If you’ve ever looked at Coco’s menu, you’ll see they have a huge variety of toppings to choose from. Here are some ideas:

  • your favourite katsu (pictured is for tofu katsu)
  • karaage: tofu karaage
  • korokke (Japanese croquettes)
  • hambagu (vegan recipe for Japanese hamburger patty)
  • natto
  • fried vegetables
  • hot dogs: plant based as necessary
  • egg (vegetarian)
  • spinach (cooked into the sauce)
  • potato salad
  • kimchi
  • tempura
  • corn

In addition, serve with fresh rice and fukushinzuke (pickled sweet daikon) and ryakyo (pickled scallion bulbs).

Quicker Caramelized Onions

You can’t beat caramelized onions that are cooked long and slow, but sometimes when I’m in a rush I use this microwave plus stove top method to make it in about 15 minutes with similar results.

  1. Add the thinly sliced onions to a microwave safe bowl with butter. Cover with cling wrap microwave on high for 3 minutes, stir and microwave on high for another 3 – 5 minutes. It should be translucent and soft.
  2. Heat a pan over medium to medium high. Add the onions and spread across the pan. Let it heat up and slightly brown on the bottom. Stir occasionally to prevent it from burning and continue to cook until caramelized and jammy. Deglaze the pan with a little water as needed.

Tips for Delicious Japanese Curry

  1. Curry texture: Coco Ichi’s curry tends to be very smooth and more-so on the liquid-y side. This is personal preference, but if you enjoy a very loose curry you can strain the ingredients through a fine mesh sieve after blending. Alternatively, you may also add more liquid. If you prefer a thicker curry, simmer for slightly longer until your desired consistency.
  2. Add the flavour boosters at the end and keep on simmer: add the instant coffee, cocoa powder, miso and rice vinegar at the end to preserve its favour.
  3. Make extra: double the recipe to have leftovers. Why? Because second day curry tastes even better. The ingredients continue to marinate and break down and time allows the flavours to mature and blend together.

How to Store Leftover Curry

Once the curry cools, you can keep it in the pot with the lid on and store it in the fridge. If it is a smaller amount, transfer to a air tight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat on the stove over low heat.

To freeze, transfer to freezer safe containers and keep in the freezer for up to one month. When ready, thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then on the stove over low heat. You may need to add water to desired consistency.

Recipe FAQs

  1. How does the vegetarian/vegan CoCo Ichi curry compare to the one made with beef/pork? I had my mom compare the two and she said that the two are quite similar and incredibly flavourful. The main difference being that the vegetarian one has a slightly fruitier flavour. She also noted that the veg one is less oily and after eating it, it also felt less heavy on the stomach.
  2. How does this recipe compare to the CoCo Ichi curry? Of course, this is not a complete replica of CoCo’s curry since they have their own secret blend of spices and ingredients, but I think quite close. I think the main difference is that this curry has a less of a greasier mouth-feel. You can really taste the depth of flavours coming from the jammy-sweet onions, fried onions and cooked onions.
  3. Can I add other vegetables to the curry? Yes! If you prefer family-style curry with chunks of potatoes and carrots, you can try this Japanese vegan curry :).
  4. What can I use instead of plant based bacon? The next best vegan alternative would be mushrooms. However, if you are not vegan you may substitute for bacon or thinly sliced beef. Additionally, swap the water for chicken stock.
  5. Do I have to strain the curry? No. Coco’s curry is quite smooth but if you don’t mind a little texture no need to strain, especially if you are using a high speed blender.
coco ichibanaya vegetable curry rice with soy burger on a white plate

More Japanese Curry Recipes to Try

SAVE IT FOR LATER! ↓

TOFU katsu over rice with japanese curry sauce in a oval white curry bowl

If you recreate this CoCo Ichibanaya-style Japanese Curry recipe let me know how you liked it by leaving a comment and rating below or by tagging me on Instagram @Okonomikitchen, I love seeing all of your tasty recreations!
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japanese tofu katsu curry with rice on a oval plate

Japanese CoCo Ichibanaya-Style Curry


  • Author: Lisa Kitahara
  • Total Time: 80 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

This Japanese curry is inspired by the iconic, Coco Ichibanaya House Curry. This homemade Japanese curry sauce is savory-sweet, rich and creamy with a rude amount of flavour. Pair with various types of katsu, vegetables and toppings for the ultimate comfort meal!! 


Ingredients

Units Scale

CURRY SAUCE:

  • 2 large (~600 g) onions
  • 6 tbsp butter (I use Miyokos cultured butter)
  • oil, for frying
  • 1 small (60 g) carrot, grated
  • 1/2 large (120 g) apple, grated*
  • 1/3 (30 g) red bell pepper
  • 100 g plant based bacon or beef (I use Light Life)*
  • 5 cups (1250 ml) + 1 1/2 (375 ml) cups of water, divided
  • 1 tbsp vegan chicken boullion
  • 2 tbsp mango or mixed fruit chutney
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 tsp S&B curry powder
  • 1 pack (200 g) curry roux cubes
  • 4 tsp Bull Dog Worcestershire sauce*
  • 2 tsp Bull Dog Fruit & Vegetable Sauce*
  • 2 tsp red miso paste*
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee*
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar, divided
  • 1 tsp salt, to taste
  • 1/81/4 tsp white pepper, or to taste
  • 1/81/4 tsp togarashi or cayenne, to taste
  • 4 tsp dark soy sauce, optional

Protein / Vegetable Add-on

Serving

  • rice
  • fukushinzuke
  • ryakyo (pickled scallion bulb)

Instructions

  1. Slice off the stem ends of the onion. Cut the onion in half from the root end. Remove outer layer of the onions. Thinly slice the onions, root to tip. About 300-325 g will be caramelized, 120 g will be fried, and 30 g added to the pot.
  2. Add oil to a small pot about one inch high over high heat. Add 120 grams of the thinly sliced onions and fry until slightly past golden brown. Immediately transfer to a bowl and set aside. Reserve the cooking oil. 
    • you may also skip frying the onions and use 2-3 tbsp (30 g) of store bought fried onions.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of butter to a medium stainless steel pan (or large heavy-bottomed pot) over medium heat until melted. Add 300 grams of the thinly sliced onions and stir until softened and become translucent. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes to prevent them from sticking. Continue this process for 35-45 minutes until caramelized and maintains a jam-like consistency. If at any point it begins to burn, add a splash of water to deglaze the pan. If you’re pressed for time, see tip in the blogpost on how to caramelize onions quicker (15 minutes).
  4. Add the grated carrots and apples and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Add one cup of water and scrape off any remaining bits from the caramelized onions (don’t let that flavour go to waste!!) and set that aside. 
  5. Roast the pepper over a gas stove until charred. Slice and remove the seeds and set aside. You will only need 1/3 of the bell pepper (roughly 30 g). 
  6. To a large pot, add 1 tbsp of oil from the oil we used to fry the onions. Add the vegan bacon and remaining 30 g of onions. Fry for 3-5 minutes. 
    • *if you are starting off with a heavy-bottomed pot, cook the bacon and remaining onions in the pot and add all the water. 
  7. Add the water from the pan we used to caramelize the onions. Add remaining 4 cups of water (or vegetable broth) and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the vegan chicken boullion, caramelized onions, fried onions and roasted bell pepper. Add peanut butter, mixed fruit chutney and curry powder. Use an immersion blender and blend until smooth.
  8. Optional step: if you prefer a smoother consistency, strain using a fine mesh sieve.
  9. Cut the roux into small pieces. Add the cut up roux into a ladle and dissolve it into the curry using chopsticks. 
  10. Add in remaining 4 tbsp of butter, Worcestershire sauce, Fruit & Vegetable Sauce, miso paste, instant coffee, 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar, salt, white pepper and togarashi (or cayenne) to finish. Let it simmer over low for 5 minutes. 
  11. Remove from heat. Once it cools down, transfer to an air tight container and let it rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. 
  12. Add the curry back to a pot with the remaining water over medium. Mix in the dark soy sauce and 1/2 tbsp vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasoning and spice level to your liking. Adjust consistency to your liking by adding more water to thin it out if desired. 
  13. Serve with rice, protein or vegetable add-on, fukushinzuke and ryakyo or keep in the fridge covered overnight– it will taste even better the next day.

Notes

  • *Because there are quite a bit of ingredients that go into this recipe, please refer to the blogpost for any ingredient substitutions with a * beside it. 
  • Nutritional Information Disclaimer: Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated on an online tool (Cronometer). 
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 70 minutes
  • Category: dinner
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: Japanese

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 serving
  • Calories: 310
  • Sugar: 12.2 g
  • Sodium: 800mg
  • Fat: 21.1 g
  • Saturated Fat: 8.3
  • Unsaturated Fat: 9.6
  • Trans Fat: 0.4
  • Carbohydrates: 26.7 g
  • Fiber: 4.49
  • Protein: 7.1
  • Cholesterol: 0

Keywords: japanese curry, coco ichibanaya curry, katsu curry

Konnichiwa

About Lisa

I'm Lisa, a home cook, recipe developer and founder of Okonomi Kitchen. Here, you'll find a mix of classic and modernized Japanese recipes, and creative, plant-forward meal inspiration using seasonal ingredients. I hope to share more about Japanese cuisine and culture through food and recipes.


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16 Comments

  1. This is a really delicious recipe. I served mine with a tofu katsu and it was awesome. There are a few components so I recommend for the recipe follower to be patient. There’s the mango chutney, peanut butter, instant coffee, miso, soy, caramelised onions, roast bell pepper/capsicum, vegan bacon, grated carrot and apple, the special japanese bbq sauces, worcesteshire etc. I would suggest to reduce the 1 tbsp of instant coffee to 1 tsp. Mine came out slightly bitter but still really delicious. I will probably try this again, and see how it turns out with the instant coffee reduced to 1 tsp.

    Thanks for creating this. I’ve never heard of Ichabanaya style curry until watching the tiktok for this recipe, it was very interesting to discover new style of Japanese curry.

  2. Hi Lisa! What mushrooms and how much would you use instead of the plant bacon if not available? Should I just add it to the onions and fry just like the bacon? Is it better just to omit it instead of adding mushrooms?

      1. Thanks! It was quite a pain to find all the ingredients, some I had to order online. How many grams of dried shiitakes should I use? I’m asking because I don’t want them to overpower the flavor, they have quite a strong flavor.
        BTW, are dried shiitakes better than any type of fresh mushrooms for this recipe in your opinion?

      2. Do I need to remove the skin of the bell pepper after roasting? Should it be lightly charred or almost completely black? It doesn’t say.

        1. Keep the skin on and char lightly if adding the skin in or if removing skin, you can charr until completely black.

      3. Thanks! I made the curry with fresh shiitakes and it turned out great but I would love to try it with dried shiitakes. How many grams of dried shiitakes would you use instead of the 100g plant bacon?

  3. Is it possible to use other curry powders? Can’t find s&b curry powder anywhere. Can I use your recipe for homemade japanese curry powder for this recipe 1:1?

  4. Hi Lisa! Been following your blog for years, love your recipes!
    I have a couple of questions about this recipe:
    1. Can I use any plant based beef or bacon? Is Beyond ground beef a good option?
    2. I currently only have Bulldog tonkatsu sauce, can I use it instead of the worcestershire sauce and ketchup instead of the fruit and vegetable sauce? Is that an acceptable combination?

    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi! Thank you so much!! Yes use any plant based bacon, one that isn’t too strong of a flavour though. I think beyond should be okay because it’s a small amount, it’s just for a bit of flavouring. And yes you can!!

  5. I tried this recipe and let me tell you…the pictures and descriptions does no justice! The fragrance and taste instantly made me feel like I was back in Japan.

    The time and work is so worth it! You will not be dissapointed. This became my go to Japanese curry recipe!

  6. By far one of the best DIY curry’s I’ve had, dare I say better than the restaurants! A must try!

  7. This is the best curry recipe I’ve had! Super flavourful but not overwhelming, each bite tastes like a hug. Could eat this for days

  8. Awesome and detailed recipe! Had different variants of this but can’t wait to try this one! Thank you!!