By Michael Flemming
Curry House Coco Ichibanya is a Japanese style curry restaurant popularly known for quick and efficient service, and its signature curry rice dishes that can be highly customized to individual tastes in seemingly endless variations. If you are completely un-initiated in Java curry, curry rice, or just anything that happens to be spiced with curry then Coco Ichibanya is the perfect place to be introduced to the love of curry.
The first experience once entering any Coco Ichibanya is the warm greeting that guests receive. It’s usually “irashaimas” which is the Japanese word used to welcome guests in to a store. The greeting is a bit perplexing at first because it usually comes from every employee inside the restaurant as they all briefly smile and look directly at you.
Once seated, either on the barstools near the kitchen or at booths lining the windows of the restaurant, the waitress will bring a pitcher of water with glasses and place an open menu in front of you. There are a variety of menus and special seasonal offering flyers on each table. All have large pictures clearly depicting each item and at least one of the menus at the table will be in English.
Coco Ichibanya serves curry rice as its one primary entrée, but it is offered in dozens of varieties such as plain, hamburger, vegetable, cuttlefish, pork cutlet, egg, or sausage. Customers can order one of the specific curry rice varieties or alternatively can opt for selecting the curry base desired; the curry bases come in two beef based and two pork based varieties. The next few decisions are where the real fun of Coco Ichibanya begins.
The amount of rice, the spice level and the toppings desired make for a completely customizable and unique experience with each visit. 300 grams of rice is the standard, but any variation of rice from 200 to 900 grams in 100 gram intervals can be ordered; 200 grams of rice will cost 50 yen less, while 400 grams or more incurs an extra cost. The spice levels range from standard levels of kid’s (not spicy at all) or zero (mild) to a sliding scale of hotness from one to ten. The spice levels one through ten cost 20 yen extra per level. An insider’s secret is that the curry spice shaker at the table can be used to heat up your dish without having to pay extra, if you don’t mind it not being cooked into the curry. There about a dozen additional toppings, depending on the exact Coco Curry visited, that can be ordered to customize each meal. The toppings usually include eggs, garlic bits, corn, onions, and tomatoes.
I usually order the hamburger curry with the standard 300 grams of rice, spice level three and select garlic bits and corn as toppings. I have tried up to spice level five before, but afterward I had numbness in my mouth akin to having swallowed an explosive. My scalp still sweats out with level three but I don’t get the un-extinguishable burn that last for hours afterward. The curry rice is served with the rice on side of the plate, the hamburger placed leaning on the rice, and the curry poured onto the other side of the plate. The toppings come on the side - sprinkle as desired.
My wife and I, like the Japanese do, eat curry rice at home a couple times a month and at Coco’s about once a month. It’s a staple meal for us just like pot roast is in America. Our family of three boys, the youngest opting just for baby formula, dines for about 3,200 yet each visit.
We recently visited the Uruma City location on Route 329 just north of the Okinawa Expressway Ishikawa exit. The store is open daily from 11:00 ~ 24:00. Japanese yen and American dollars are accepted. There are 13 locations on Okinawa, more than 1,200 stores in mainland Japan, and another 100 in six other countries.
I'm a wandererer in Okinawa turning over every stone I can find. I write, photograph, and blog about my favorite finds here in Japan's southernmost prefecture. Find more of my rants and finding on my travel blog.