Japanese dining chain curries favour with Indian market

GURGAON, India (AFP) – One of Japan’s most popular restaurant chains is embarking on what could become one of the all-time crowning achievements of salesmanship – selling curry to India.

Coco Ichibanya has over 1,400 locations worldwide but its owners are eager to find a foothold in the world’s second-biggest nation, and favour among a middle class with a growing appetite for international food.

But it remains to be seen whether its own signature curry dish – a distinctive, thick brown sauce and sticky white rice – can lure diners accustomed to local varieties honed over thousands of years.

“We are not here to compete with Indian curries,” Ichibanya India’s Assistant Chief Executive Devesh Srivastava told AFP.

“We have a flavourful Japanese curry which is a bit different from the Indian one… and the response has been pretty good so far. People are coming back as well.”

Beef is absent from the tailor-made menu, in deference to religious requirements and local tastes. Substitutes such as paneer and eggplant are on offer instead, making a unique global hybrid cuisine reflecting the chain’s dual origins.

Curry originated in India thousands of years ago but in the late 19th Century British seafarers introduced it to Japan, where it evolved into a beloved national comfort food.

Rising disposable incomes left India an attractive market for Japanese companies, which are looking to offset declining consumer spending at home by expanding abroad.

Ichibanya believes its successful step into Thailand, another curry-loving nation, is a sign the chain could succeed in India.

“Initially there is going to be a lot of interest,” Kavita Devgan, an author and food columnist, told AFP.

“If the curry works for the Indian palate and is not very unfamiliar, then it has a chance.”