Photo: The Straits Times/ Kevin Lim
Despite the current sweltering weather, curry is the hot flavour at the moment.
From spicy Indian vindaloo to sweet Japanese curry to local chicken curry, the dish cuts across cultures and is a comfort food for many.
Some of the newest curry houses here are Japanese curry restaurants Sama Curry & Cafe at Downtown Gallery and Tengawa Hokkaido White Curry at Millenia Walk, as well as Indian restaurant Dabbawalla, formerly known as The Curry Culture, at Robertson Quay.
Both the Japanese eateries do not offer the usual Japanese curry - a savoury and slightly sweet brown curry cooked with onions, carrots, potatoes and apples, and poured over rice.
Sama Curry & Cafe, which originated in Hokkaido, has a stew-like soup curry made with vegetables and meat. Spice levels go from zero to 30 and rice is served separately.
On bringing the brand to Singapore, Sama Curry & Cafe's founder, Mr Shuichi Takahashi, 48, says: "There are curries from different cultures in Singapore. However, the market for Japanese curry hasn't been discovered yet."
He has plans for five more outlets in Singapore, before branching out to other parts of Asia.
The four-month-old Tengawa Hokkaido White Curry's recipe for Japanese curry uses Hokkaido milk. This results in a creamy curry that is served with fried ebi, chicken katsu or Japanese-style hamburg.
The two eateries join older Japanese players in the scene, including Monster Curry, with outlets in malls such as Ion Orchard and VivoCity; and CoCoIchibanya, which has outlets in town, such as in Bugis+ and Raffles City, and plans to open in heartland malls too.
Over at Shaw Centre's Food Republic foodcourt, Japan Foods Garden's latest Japanese curry concept Omurice Factory was launched two months ago. It replaces curry- related concepts Bear's Curry, where the dish was presented in the shape of a bear, and Crazy Curry, which offered different levels of spiciness.
Japan Foods Garden owner Masahiro Yoshikawa, 54, changed the concept to suit the local palate. He says Bear's Curry "was not something that directly appealed to most Singaporeans" and Crazy Curry's spice levels "were not entirely suitable for local taste".
Photo: Omurice Factory/ Facebook
Omurice Factory offers the best of both worlds - rice topped with omelette (from $8.90), surrounded by a pool of Japanese curry.
If sweet curry is not your thing, then head to Robertson Quay for Indian curry. What was formerly known as The Curry Culture has been rebranded as the hip Dabbawalla restaurant, to fit in with the trendy vibe of the riverside venue.
Curry and cocktails are the key features and its director, Mr Sandeep Sachar, 45, has plans to open for weekend brunch later this month. A new Curry Culture outlet will open in August at the upcoming Park Hotel Farrer Park in Little India.
Mr Sachar says: "Curry is a world cuisine that suits the local palate. It is comfort food. We still use traditional recipes at Dabbawalla, but cater to a younger crowd."
Indeed, with the popularity of curry, the halal-certified Curry Times chain by Old Chang Kee now has more curry dishes on the menu.
These include beef curry, curry chap chye, curry chicken cheese baked rice, curry chicken mee sua and nasi lemak with curry chicken or beef curry.
Mr Song Yeow Chung, 38, group financial controller of Old Chang Kee, says its signature curry chicken is the most popular item and can be eaten with roti prata, rice, bread or noodles.
Curry Times has outlets at Westgate mall, Novena Square and OneKM mall in Tanjong Katong Road, among others. Another one will open later this year at Changi Airport's Terminal 4 transit area.
At Sama Curry & Cafe last week, Mr Ikuo Hayashi, 51, a general manager working on information systems who has been in Singapore for 21/2 years, found a curry flavour that hits close to home.
While the Japanese found his hamburg curry dish at level 15 a tad spicy, he says the flavours are true to what he has eaten in Tokyo.
He says: "Soup curry is still considered something new, even in Japan. My favourite Japanese curry is still the traditional one from CoCoIchibanya, but I will return to Sama Curry & Cafe for more."
NEW CURRY RESTAURANTS
Tengawa Hokkaido White Curry
Photo: Tengawa Hokkaido White Curry/ Facebook
What: The four-month-old 36-seat restaurant is the latest addition to the Japanese food enclave Nihon Food Street at Millenia Walk. The menu features just three set meals - Japanese-style hamburg white curry ($15.80), made with Iberico pork; crunchy chicken katsu ($15.80); and ebi fry ($16.80).
The creamy and very mild white curry is prepared with fresh Hokkaido milk.
Each set comes with truffle oil chawanmushi as well as a free flow of rice and miso soup.
Where: 02-16 Millenia Walk, 9 Raffles Boulevard, open: 11.30am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6265-1314 or go to www.facebook.com/TengawaWhiteCurry
Sama Curry & Cafe
Photo: The Straits Times/ Sama Curry & Cafe
What: Sama Curry & Cafe offers soup curry with different ingredients as well as options for the spice level and soup base.
On the menu are items such as Ocean Trophy ($18.90), with prawn, squid, scallops and blue mussels; Cheesy Bear ($16.90), with fried chicken, roasted cabbage and cheese; and Hungry Bear ($18.90), with chicken leg, and pork or hamburger patty. Some options come with a medley of vegetables, including eggplant, green pepper, okra and broccoli.
Next, customers choose the spice level, which ranges from zero to 30. A safe spice range with a good amount of heat would be 10 to 15.
Finally, there are four choices for the soup base: tomato, coconut, Japanese or shrimp. The tomato and coconut options have a thicker, more stew-like consistency.
Each portion of curry is cooked to order, so be prepared to wait at least 15 minutes during peak meal times.
There are side dishes such as shrimp gyoza ($6.50 for six), Hokkaido imomochi cheese (Japanese-style potato rice cakes, $6.50 for two) and sesame chicken wings ($6.50 for three).
This is the first Sama Curry & Cafe outlet in Singapore. The brand was launched in 2004 in Hokkaido and opened in Hong Kong three years ago.
Where: 03-26 Downtown Gallery, 6A Shenton Way, open: 11am to 9pm daily
Info: Call 6224-0590 or go to www.facebook.com/samacurrysg
Photo: The Straits Times/ Kua Chee Siong
What: The Curry Culture in Robertson Quay is now called Dabbawalla - taking its name from the iconic dabbawallas (lunch delivery men) from Mumbai, India. Dabbawalla is run by the people behind The Curry Culture, a five-year-old restaurant at Cuppage Terrace.
While the menus at both restaurants serve similar curry dishes, Dabbawalla has a more casual, trendy vibe and highlights Mumbai street food and other regional cuisine.
Diners can spice up their palate with curries such as vindaloo (the spice level ranges from one to 10, $21 or $24); Dabbawalla butter chicken ($21); Malabar fish curry ($20); and the new assam fish curry ($20). Other highlights include saag paneer ($20), or spinach and cottage cheese; Bombay Frankie ($14 or $16), with paneer (fresh cheese), chicken or lamb in crispy chapati, served with mint and green mango chutney; and Samarkandi prawns ($27), or tiger prawns stuffed with crab meat and spices.
The restaurant also offers desserts and cocktails.
Where: 01-10 The Quayside, 60 Robertson Quay; open: 5.30 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6235-6134
This story was originally published in The Straits Times on June 11, 2017.