4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The sixteen spices (and thirty toppings) of Zen Curry

A choice of curry toppings includes a few surprises

Chicken katsu and fried quail eggs with curry and rice
Chicken katsu and fried quail eggs with curry and rice

A lot of different cultural cuisines offer curry. Countries on the Indian subcontinent alone are responsible for dozens of different types of curry. Southeast Asia developed a whole other curry lineage, led by Thailand, with several of its own. Yet, thanks to the lifestyle of an American military brat, Japanese curry was my first.

Place

Zen Curry

7309 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego

Which is a little backward. Japanese curry was late to the game, given that most of the signature dishes in the archipelago’s cuisine are a product of sakoku, Japan’s two centuries of self-imposed isolation. From the 17th to 19th centuries, Japan effectively shut itself off to the outside world, which meant missing out on the global spice trade at its peak. That’s why, while other cultures were busy finding a place for chili peppers and a world of spices in their culinary traditions, Japan’s own traditions developed with a far more limited palette, forcing its chefs to get creative with the likes of rice vinegar, dashi, and miso paste.

Spinach curry covered in grated cheese, with kurobata sausage

What a time it must have been in Japan, when the embargo on outside trade lifted, and a flood of new and forgotten flavors entered the realm. New Kearny Mesa restaurant Zen Curry offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the style of curry that resulted. The curry-dedicated offshoot of a Las Vegas restaurant starts with caramelized onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, concocting its own blend of 16 spices, including cardamom, clove, cumin, allspice, ginger, and laurel leaves.

The restaurant promotes the blend as offering a litany of health benefits, including improved liver function, digestive health, and circulation. Personally, I enjoy it because it’s tangy, earthy, and rich.

A small, all curry Japanese restaurant

But it’s how Zen Curry serves its house curry that’s the story here. You can get it straight up served with rice for $7. Or, you may choose among roughly 30 different toppings to add to it.

Most options start with a protein; panko breaded and fried tonkatsu pork cutlets are perhaps the most traditional. As with most Japanese restaurants serving katsu, there’s a chicken katsu alternative, in addition to a separate karaage fried chicken. But unlike most places, the katsu options don’t stop there: you’ll find shrimp, tofu, oyster, and even spam katsu cutlets.

You can order any of these with curry and rice for $10-12. Likewise, you may go for stewed beef, kurobata sausage, or gyoza dumplings. Whichever you choose, the add on toppings are where things get distinctive. I’m talkin’ garlic chips, almond flakes, steamed okra, or shrimp croquette. Ranging from fifty cents to four dollars (for a second protein), the assorted toppings in combination mean you can tweak your order every single time you visit, pretty much forever.

I kept my first try simple enough, going for chicken katsu and adding fried quail eggs. With a pool of thick, brown curry sauce adding flavor to everything, the meal took me back to my expat youth, delighting with both execution and nostalgia, and surprisingly filling for 11 dollars.

My second effort went a different direction. I was dubious of several cheese toppings featured on the menu, including parmesan, mozzarella, and a five-cheese blend. But I was game to try one, and even excited to match it with the spinach curry — same as the basic curry but with spinach stewed in. The grilled kurobata sausage I added turned out to be my favorite part.

The spinach flavor didn’t mesh well with that curry, which leaves little room for anything that isn’t primarily salty. And let’s just say, even in a post-sakoku world, I prefer Japanese food without the cheese. Zen Curry is off to a good start, but not all curry toppings work, so choose wisely.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Chaos at La Jolla sea lion rookery

A top tourist attraction
Chicken katsu and fried quail eggs with curry and rice
Chicken katsu and fried quail eggs with curry and rice

A lot of different cultural cuisines offer curry. Countries on the Indian subcontinent alone are responsible for dozens of different types of curry. Southeast Asia developed a whole other curry lineage, led by Thailand, with several of its own. Yet, thanks to the lifestyle of an American military brat, Japanese curry was my first.

Place

Zen Curry

7309 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego

Which is a little backward. Japanese curry was late to the game, given that most of the signature dishes in the archipelago’s cuisine are a product of sakoku, Japan’s two centuries of self-imposed isolation. From the 17th to 19th centuries, Japan effectively shut itself off to the outside world, which meant missing out on the global spice trade at its peak. That’s why, while other cultures were busy finding a place for chili peppers and a world of spices in their culinary traditions, Japan’s own traditions developed with a far more limited palette, forcing its chefs to get creative with the likes of rice vinegar, dashi, and miso paste.

Spinach curry covered in grated cheese, with kurobata sausage

What a time it must have been in Japan, when the embargo on outside trade lifted, and a flood of new and forgotten flavors entered the realm. New Kearny Mesa restaurant Zen Curry offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the style of curry that resulted. The curry-dedicated offshoot of a Las Vegas restaurant starts with caramelized onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, concocting its own blend of 16 spices, including cardamom, clove, cumin, allspice, ginger, and laurel leaves.

The restaurant promotes the blend as offering a litany of health benefits, including improved liver function, digestive health, and circulation. Personally, I enjoy it because it’s tangy, earthy, and rich.

A small, all curry Japanese restaurant

But it’s how Zen Curry serves its house curry that’s the story here. You can get it straight up served with rice for $7. Or, you may choose among roughly 30 different toppings to add to it.

Most options start with a protein; panko breaded and fried tonkatsu pork cutlets are perhaps the most traditional. As with most Japanese restaurants serving katsu, there’s a chicken katsu alternative, in addition to a separate karaage fried chicken. But unlike most places, the katsu options don’t stop there: you’ll find shrimp, tofu, oyster, and even spam katsu cutlets.

You can order any of these with curry and rice for $10-12. Likewise, you may go for stewed beef, kurobata sausage, or gyoza dumplings. Whichever you choose, the add on toppings are where things get distinctive. I’m talkin’ garlic chips, almond flakes, steamed okra, or shrimp croquette. Ranging from fifty cents to four dollars (for a second protein), the assorted toppings in combination mean you can tweak your order every single time you visit, pretty much forever.

I kept my first try simple enough, going for chicken katsu and adding fried quail eggs. With a pool of thick, brown curry sauce adding flavor to everything, the meal took me back to my expat youth, delighting with both execution and nostalgia, and surprisingly filling for 11 dollars.

My second effort went a different direction. I was dubious of several cheese toppings featured on the menu, including parmesan, mozzarella, and a five-cheese blend. But I was game to try one, and even excited to match it with the spinach curry — same as the basic curry but with spinach stewed in. The grilled kurobata sausage I added turned out to be my favorite part.

The spinach flavor didn’t mesh well with that curry, which leaves little room for anything that isn’t primarily salty. And let’s just say, even in a post-sakoku world, I prefer Japanese food without the cheese. Zen Curry is off to a good start, but not all curry toppings work, so choose wisely.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Lakeside Community Presbyterian: Christ, connection and community

Working our way through a new vision
Next Article

The Teal Panda Fest: Twelve bands rock Sweetwater Ranch in Jamul

The first music festival in the San Diego region since the pandemic started is about to go down
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close