Every foreigner I know in Japan has an opinion on Japanese curry. Some peers claim it’s too bland compared to the diversity of flavors found at Indian or Thai curry restaurants. They’ll never order Japanese-style curry when eating out. Other friends swear by its ability to give a nice kick to just about any food: from meat to fish and vegetables. I would say that I used to waver between both groups. Because what’s the point of going out to eat, and ordering a dish that could be easily prepared at home?
Then a little shop down a hidden Jinbocho alleyway changed my taste buds forever.
Manten Curry, meaning “full marks” or “perfect score” in Japanese, lives up to its name as one of the best places in Tokyo for curry. The rankings and reviews speak for themselves (just turn on that translator first). Which makes me wonder why this place is still a big secret in the restaurant scene.
Maybe it’s the location. The Jinbocho area isn’t known for much besides ancient book and record stores; quite overshadowed by Tokyo Dome in the north and Akihabara in the east. Additionally, the restaurant (or more suitably, the hole-in-the-wall) is quite difficult to find. Well hopefully I let the secret out the bag with this one. Let’s get to it.
After walking about seven minutes from the station, you realize that you walked right past that pin you dropped on Google Maps! No worries, just backtrack, backtrack…oh, you see the big yellow sign? You’re here! Uhh, not exactly. That’s the menu. Less than seven items, no sides, ALL curry. Yup, that’s what you’re about to experience. Now just follow your nose (or the big red arrow) down the alleyway.
As you near the entrance, you hear cooks yelling out orders and welcoming people in. The deep fryer bubbles up as another tonkatsu is dropped in. You check the showcase menu at the front to see exactly what your meal will look like. Doesn’t look that special, right? No garnishes, sides, extra stuff..Just rice, curry, and whatever topping you choose. If there’s no line you’re in luck. Go ahead and open the door to…
A kitchen?! Wait, isn’t this supposed to be a restaurant? Just take a seat around the counter surrounding the kitchen and when the cook asks, just shout out the order. The cooks may not know much English, but they are extremely kind and might even try to strike up a conversation. While waiting for your food, feel free to sip on the water and coffee in front of you, and watch as your dish is being prepared.
Seven minutes later, Enjoy!
One of the reasons why I love this spot is because of it’s homey atmosphere. The cooks are right there in front of you, taking orders, making food, and receiving payments. They are extremely polite in their mannerisms but casual with their language (which is extremely rare in the Japanese food service industry). The cooks are on a first name basis with regulars as well, another rarity in Japan.
Whether you’re a curry connoisseur or just want to try something new, I’d strongly suggest checking out Manten Curry in Jinbocho. And if you go, tell the cooks that Eric sent ya!
From Jinbocho Station:
Go out exit A5 and swing around the corner on your right and head north. When you see Tony’s Records make a right down the very next alleyway. It’ll be on the left. 5 minute walk.
From Suidobashi Station:
Head out the East exit, make a right and head south. At the second light, cross over to the opposite side of the street (where the 7-11 is) and continue heading south for a little less than a minute. When you see the yellow Manten Curry sign head down the alleyway. 7 minute walk.
Tonkatsu curry is 600 yen. Everything else on the menu is lower. The 大盛り (oomori or “large” in English) size for any dish is the price +50 yen. If you have a tapeworm in your stomach and want to go for the jumbo size, that’s the price +100 yen. Trust me it will keep you full until the same time tomorrow.
Weekdays 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
Saturdays 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Closed Sundays and National Holidays
I would definitely agree that curry flavoring doesn’t differ much across the county, which is one of the reasons why I wrote the article, because it’s rare to find a place like this.
I guess if I were to compare it to GoGo curry or CoCo Ichiban, Manten’s curry is a bit thicker and more heartier than GoGo’s. Bits of pork and onions make up the base, and it’s not as spicy as CoCo’s curry. There’s not much in the way of toppings, I believe that the owner prefers to keep it that way though. I don’t know the exact ingredients they use to make the curry, I just know that whatever they use, it definitely has a flavor distinctly different from something you could get in the supermarket and make at home.
You can order tonkatsu, shumai, cream croquet, sausage, or all 4 to go with your curry.
Additionally, the dining experience is different from many places I’ve been to in Japan, which i touched on in the article.
If you want more detailed information on the restaurant, I suggest checking out the reviews I linked to. The people who wrote them are the real curry connoisseurs, so they may be able to describe things in more detail than I can.