One of the great things about curry is how versatile it is. The standard way to eat the spicy dish in Japan is with carrots, potatoes, onions, and pork, but you can also toss in chicken, shrimp, beef, or tuna. Things are wide open when it comes to vegetables, too, with some people opting for eggplant, spinach, or tomatoes.
But why limit yourself to just meats and veggies? One curry restaurant in Tokyo feels its menu should be inclusive of the entire food pyramid, and will fix you a plate of curry rice that represents the fruit and dairy groups in the forms of curry with strawberries and even ice cream.
Even if it had a more orthodox menu, Cafe Latino would probably still stand out because of the incongruity of its name and location in Asakusa, Tokyo’s traditional, temple-filled neighborhood. The name isn’t just a ploy to get attention, though, as the cafe hosts conga drum performances and also provides Latin music percussion lessons, which are offered by appointment at any hour of the day or night.
That’s not the most unusual thing about Cafe Latino, though, nor does that title go to the owner’s pet turtle which can be seeing crawling around the floor. No, what really gets people talking about the restaurant is its extremely unusual curry offerings, with the most popular being the strawberry curry.
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One order gets you a triple helping of the crimson fruits. Most noticeably, there’s the ring of strawberry slices encircling the rice, which has chunks of the fruit mixed into it. Finally, inside the sauce boat the curry is served in, you’ll find three whole strawberries, stewed in the roux Cafe Latino makes in-house.
The combination isn’t as jarring as you might expect, according to those who’ve eaten it. The restaurant selects strawberries that are more tart than cloyingly sweet, which helps keep the flavors balanced and preserves the inherent taste of the curry itself.
The strawberry curry was first offered in 1999, and it’s won over enough diners that a decade and a half later Cafe Latino still makes it. At 1,280 yen (US$10.70) it’s a bit more expensive than garden variety curry, though, so you might want to check your wallet before you go. While you’re at it, you’ll also want to check the calendar. In keeping with the Japanese culinary scene’s predilection for using fresh ingredients, the strawberry curry is only available from mid-November to early May, and you’ll need to call or email Cafe Latino ahead of time if you want to order it.
On the other hand, you won’t need to make a reservation for Cafe Latino’s ice cream curry.
Once again, it’s exactly what it sounds like, with a scoop of vanilla floating in the sauce boat. Available year-round, the 750-yen ($6.40) ice cream curry has a creamy flavor that some describe as being evocative of Thai curries. As is the norm in Japan, Cafe Latino serves the roux and rice separately, letting customers mix the two in the ratio they like best, which in the case of the ice cream curry also allows those desiring a milder taste to dilute the dish’s spiciness by stirring in more ice cream.
Looking for even more sweets in your curry? How about the 850-yen ($7.26) ningyoyaki curry, which gets its name from the face-shaped cakes, which have been among Asakusa’s best-selling souvenirs for generations.
▼ Like the strawberry curry, you’ll need a reservation for it.
かーそえ (@ksoe) September 21, 2013
Finally, once summer rolls around, the strawberry curry’s spot on the menu gets taken by the 950-yen, reservation-only ice curry, which is chilled but not so frozen that you can’t chew it.
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Of course, Cafe Latino also has a full lineup of standard curry plates, such as pork, chicken, and seafood curry. But with all of the historical spots to visit in Asakusa, it can be hard to find the time to even to sit down for lunch, let alone make a separate stop for dessert. If you’re looking for the most time-efficient way to fill your belly and satisfy your sweet tooth so you can get back to temple-hopping, Cafe Latino might be just the place for you.
Cafe Latino / カフェ・ラティーノ
Tokyo-to, Sumida-ku, Higashi Komagata 1-12-10