I first knew Curry Shika about a year ago by a friend. Later, I was introduced to the store owners by a friend who was working as a scullion there.
That day was Tuesday. I remember correctly because every Tuesday, the store was closed, so my friend was off from work. He came to my house, accompanying a young couple with a baby about 4-5 years old. The husband is Japanese, and the wife is Vietnamese. The baby could communicate in both Vietnamese and Japanese but he did not talk much, because he was playing with the dogs and cats in my house then chuckling on his own. Shika was also a quiet man, I didn’t see him talking much. I mainly talked to Ms. Yen.
Before that day, I didn’t know that Japanese people also ate a lot of curry. One of the Japanese restaurants I’ve visited that specializes in noodles, rice, and barbecue, instead of sushi or sashimi, also has only one dish related to curry: beef curry udon (udon noodles with beef curry). I was surprised to hear her say “Japanese eat a lot of curry”, and was even more amazed to listen to the discrete pieces of the story she told about Curry Shika. I kept asking questions, and she quickly responded with a tone that couldn’t be more genuine.
Large curry restaurants in Japan research and make the claim that Vietnamese people prefer eating curry with noodles or bread to with rice. This is probably one of the reasons in Vietnam there is no restaurant specializing in Japanese curry. So you decided to “go against the current” and Curry Shika was born. The name of the store took his surname Shika, which means “little deer”, so as soon as you step in, you will see many pictures of deer on the wall cloths.
Curry Shika is located in a small alley on Nguyen Van Trang Street, District 1, with less than 20 seats, specializing in serving Japanese curry. The store has been open for a few years but not many people know it, because Mr. Shika does not want to welcome customers who just follow the trend, so they do not advertise the shop widely, mostly people know it by worth of mouth. Shika said, the Japanese have a saying, “It takes all three years to sit on the rock”, meaning that no matter how arduous, miserable, they would endure until the happy days. This sentence is basicly the same as the Vietnamese saying “Practice makes perfect”.
Before opening the curry shop, the couple went back to Japan, tried the curry at the shops they were introduced to, followed by a series of consecutive days of eating curry and curry and curry. “But Mr. Shika is very patient,” said Yen. “He tried cooking everyday, and we ate to see what was not ok to fix it.” During the experimental process and until the shop was opened to welcome guests, Mr. Shika continued to read books and reference materials. Being criticized by the guests, he was not sad, but continued to research and improve.
All the ingredients are selected by Shika himself. There are ingredients that need to be purchased daily. There are ingredients delivered by acquainted suppliers. But in order to find a good ingredient supplier with good and reputable ingredients, he has his own strict procedure. For example, he buys meat at the same place, continuously for several days, if there is just one day the meat is not as good as other days, he will change to buy at other meat shops. With curry powder, instead of buying instant curry powder cube, he also finds good sources for each spice such as pepper, chili, ginger, turmeric … and makes his own curry powder at home. He only makes this powder twice a year, put it in a jar to use.
I thought Shika must be a professional chef to have the patience to do the kitchen stuff. But Ms. Yen said, “No way, he used to be an engineer, and he only knows how to cook curry, when he decided to open a shop, he started to learn to cook, some desserts in the shop is what my kitchen scullions and I make”. That reminds me that the water mochi here is so delicious.
What she said reminded me of the resilient Japanese I’ve known through newspapers, radio, books, social networks, and in daily life. There is always one thing I admire about them, that is their dedication at work. When preparing for anything, they always invest time in thorough research. Once starting, they always focus on doing their best to do it better every day, not afraid of difficulties and misery. Whether they are a fish seller, cleaning worker, plumber, doctor, engineer, or chef, they can all become experts in their chosen field.
A delicious, elaborate “homemade” curry dish from the ingredients selection, probably not have the price of tens of thousands. So Curry Shika, despite its small space, simple decoration, is not an ordinary restaurant. Japanese curry has a strong flavor, covered with greasy cheese, served with rice, if anyone is not used to it, it will be difficult to enjoy. But if you are a delicate taste, you will feel the enthusiasm of the cook and agree that the money you spend is worth it.
There are lots of cute little notes on the shop, I have a picture here, but I think the best way is to go to Curry Shika by yourself to read them! As I said above, the shopkeeper doesn’t make this place for everyone, so if you really love what I tell you about Curry Shika, take your heart with you. Don’t just go there to eat and then walk away.
-Nhà Có Hai Người-
Address: Curry Shika at 1/4 Nguyen Van Trang, District 1. Opening hours: 10am – 9pm. The shop is close on every Tuesday.