Monday, 14 September 2015

Shelter And Sweet, Spicy Succour at Shokudō

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 14 September 2015

I stared at the "Closed" sign hanging on the door. Behind me was the hammering rain and the occasional rumble of thunder.

Panic began tugging at my gut.

As I checked my watch, somebody inside noticed me outside and hurried to remove the sign. Gratefully, I padded inside, leaving the bad weather behind me.

Shokudō, at Taman Paramount — your friendly neighbourhood
kare raisu place.

I am fond of curries; Japanese curry, in particular, but despaired at finding a place that has decent examples of this dish. Yes, there's that huge franchised outlet in 1 Utama and it makes good albeit expensive stuff, but that's like two kilometres of rush-hour gridlock to go through on weekdays and you are oh so tired...

So when I heard of Shokudō's existence, I checked it out. It seemed so long ago since my first time there, I can't believe that it only opened early 2015.

The interior of Shokudō: Reminiscent of the kind of eatery in
your food-related manga dreams.

Nor can I remember when my first experience with Japanese curry was. As a teenager, what I knew of it and Japanese cuisine in general came from the works of such manga artists as Daisuke Terasawa. I've since learnt that one acquires the taste for certain flavours in cuisines, apart from their history and the trivia surrounding them.

According to Japanese food company S&B, the first Japanese to eat curry (abroad) was Kenjiro Yamakawa, a scion of a samurai family who went on to become a physicist, teacher and historian.

And in 1912, the recipe for Japanese curry — with its familiar carrots and potatoes — came about and was later adopted by the Japanese army to feed its troops. Japan eventually came up with its own curry powder, and the dish is so widely eaten today, it's about as iconic as sushi.

Acquiring the taste of Japanese curry should be easy. If you can't, we can't be friends.

Tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork loin cutlet) curry rice
is plain comfort after a long day.

Shokudō literally means "dining hall" or "canteen" in Nihongo, though I prefer "mess hall" — in honour of the first adopters of the curry in Japan. It's reminiscent of the kind of eatery run by Yōichi Ajiyoshi, the young protagonist of Terasawa's Mr Ajikko manga: long tables, spacious walkways, simple yet unmistakably Japanese décor. This local mess hall in Taman Paramount is also clean and neat.

Choose from over a dozen varieties of kare raisu, all made with the same fundamentals: curry sauce and short-grain rice garnished with a cherry tomato and a few slices of pickled ginger. The prerequisite carrots and potatoes are there, blended finely into the sauce to make the plate look less cluttered — a little twist by Shokudō's boss and his mentor from another establishment.

Kani cream korokke: Cream croquettes with a bit of crab
inside, plus a side salad.

Pick your favourite protein: tonkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork loin cutlet), hirekatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork fillet cutlet, which has less fat), torikatsu (breaded and — yes, just with chicken fillet), buta or tori yakiniku (stir-fried pork or chicken), or even vegetables and korokke (cream croquettes). You can even make each dish a set with a soup, salad and green tea.

And this is only half the menu, which also features a variety of "specials" (including unagi don — banzai!), appetisers, snacks and a few desserts.

Fiery local curries are always a treat but, as one ages, the stomach yearns for mellower fare. Japanese kare fills that niche nicely. All the piquancy, minus the tongue-scouring heat, made for the end of a lousy day, especially stormy evenings.

On some days, a tori yakiniku curry rice (part of a set meal here, with
soup and a salad) will also work wonders on a weary soul.

Breaded, deep-fried stuff hates me, the way they scratch the roof of my mouth. Soaking it for a bit in curry sauce helps and it goes down easier. The tonkatsu is chewy, and what's not to like about that glistening fat? Some days I prefer the stir-fried chicken, which is just as nice.

Not up to curry? FINE. Shokudō has several non-curry udon and other dishes you can also assemble a set with, plus salads (including one with salmon), salmon sashimi, slices of marinated duck breast and other Japanese titbits to chew on while waiting for your main course.

(We still can't be friends.)

While you wait for the main course, how about some chewy, lip-smacking
and appetite-whetting marinated duck breast (aigamo rousuni)?

This rainy evening, I settled down to a set meal of a kare rice with stir-fried chicken, plus an appetiser of marinated duck breast. The duck is medium rare, sliced finely and served with sliced...

"It's onion," said the boss, who wouldn't look out of place at a fitness centre. "Can't tell, can you?"

Okay, not daikon, then.

The temptation to shovel mouthfuls of curry rice with abandon was hard to resist. This is comfort food, and I can understand its wide appeal. After a hard day's work, a nice plate of kare raisu can be as comforting as a warm bed.

Though the rain cleared long after I cleaned my plate, I was in no hurry to leave. Some Japanese tunes eased into the hall, replacing the acoustic version of some Western pop song. A lovely, familiar aroma wafted from the kitchen. As I filled my cup with hot green tea for the third time, the urge to order seconds grew.

Shokudō Japanese Curry Rice
No.9, Jalan 20/13
Taman Paramount
46300 Petaling Jaya


Tue-Sun: 12pm-3pm, 6pm-10pm

Closed on Mondays

+603-7863 0922

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