Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs. She blogs at goodiesfirst.com.
Country of origin: Japan
Locations worldwide: 31 in Japan, Singapore and the U.S.
NYC locations: One in midtown
Japanese curry is like the result of a culinary game of telephone: Indian curry interpreted by the British, brought to Japan in the late 19th century and now being served in the United States. West to east and back again, the dish has certainly morphed along the way. And there is no better place to sample this multi-cultural creation than at midtown's Go Go Curry.
Hideki Matsui may no longer be with the Yankees but his legacy lives on at this hole-in-the-wall decorated with bursts of red and yellow, an inexplicable gorilla mascot and Matsui memorabilia galore. The number five is pronounced like "go" in Japanese, hence Go Go represents the famous baseball player's number 55 jersey when he was with the Yomiuri Giants. The number five is taken to extremes; their hours are 10:55 a.m. to 9:55 p.m., and discounts are given on the 5th, 15th and 25th of each month.
Creamy, heavy and comforting to those who grew up with it, kare-raisu (curry rice) is often compared to mac and cheese. The popular junk food's fans even include felines—who could forget about the curry-loving cat?
At Go Go Curry, all dishes come with short-grain white rice, a tuft of shredded cabbage (so you can pretend you're eating healthy) and a choice of meat including katsu, chicken katsu, shrimp, and sausage. Servings are baseball-themed, of course, increasing in size from walk, single, double to a triple. The $12.50 Grand Slam—like nothing you'd find at Denny's—gets you everything plus more than a pound-and-a-half of rice.
The pork cutlet ($7 for a small) comes not only in a thick pool of curry but also drizzled with Worcestershire-heavy tonkatsu sauce. The gloppy brown sauce gets its distinct sweet-savory flavor from curry powder, garam masala and apples, among other ingredients. One thing Japanese curry sauce never is? Spicy, even if it's labeled as hot.
The snappy petite sausages may look like cocktail wieners, but are closer in taste and texture to kielbasa.
Diners can customize their servings with sensible toppings like rakkyo (picked onions) and hard-boiled egg slices or more esoteric ones such as grated cheddar or natto, the notoriously gooey and pungent fermented soy beans.
It's worth the extra dollar to order traditional fukujinzuke, the neon red pickled radishes, just to see them incongruously served in an elegant gravy boat. While pickles normally enliven and cut through richness, these irresistible nubs mimicked the salty umami of the curry and also added an appealing crunch. You'll need a lot of iced green tea to get through a plate. That is, if you do. Cheap and filling, Japanese curry is the anti-sushi.