CoCo Ichibanya, Japan's hottest curry rice chain, will open its first branch in the Philippines this Sunday (March1, 2015) at Estancia Mall in Capitol Commons. The brand, which started in the 1970s in Japan, is famous throughout Asia in countries like Indonesia, China, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, and is also a favorite in California, USA. CoCo Ichibanya, or "CoCo Ichi" to loyal patrons, also bagged a spot in Guinness Book of World Records back in 2013 for being the world’s largest curry chain, making them a curry champion.
"I think this is the next thing, this is the trend to watch out for," says Hubert Young of UCC Philippines, the company responsible in bringing in CoCo Ichibanya to the country. While the craze on Japanese dishes like katsu and ramen still take hold in the metro, Young believes that curry rice will be closer to home -- it's what our Filipino palate is accustomed to, after all: a pile of hot steamed rice paired with a saucy meal. And because CoCo Ichibanya is a curry house where they allow diners to customize their own curry dining experience, the delicious curry combinations one can create are plenty that you can always come back to the restaurant for something different.
Good Smell, Good Curry
It all begins with a great base: an exceptional Japanese curry, expertly blended, and paired with imported Japanese rice. The signature blend of CoCo Ichibanya's curry -- a mix of star anise, cumin, garlic, and cinnamon -- is both flavor-packed and loaded with nutritional benefits. The secret to maintaining the high quality of the sauce is to use the exact same ingredients, imported from Japan. Manila's menu, we were told, is patterned after the CoCo Ichi menu in Hong Kong. As for the design of the actual outlet in Manila, Young mentions that the Japanese architect patterns the look and feel to fit the location; this will also apply to the several branches set to open within the year in the metro.
Customize Your Curry In Three Steps: Rice, Spice, and Topping
So, how does one order his first curry rice meal at CoCo Ichibanya? The combinations may overwhelm, so here are the basics. First, choose the Rice Size. Standard (P90/300g) is approximately one and a half cups of rice. You can size it down (200g/ less P20) or pile it up, if you're extra famished or planning to share one order -- three bigger rice sizes available (400g/ add P40, 500g/ add P80, 600g/ add P120). Next, you now indicate the Choice of Spiciness for your curry: 7 levels to choose from, starting with Mild to Crazy Hot, and Standard spice is one notch above Mild, with just a hint of heat. A pro-tip from Young: if you are not quite sure how much heat you can handle, then start with a Standard curry spice and add some of their signature Hot Spicy powder, a condiment readily available on every table, alongside their crispy spiced pickles. It's the same ingredient they add on to their curry.
Third and final step: Choose your topping. There are many toppings to choose from, starting with P50 and P80 toppings like corn, salted egg, mushroom, eggplant, clams, kimchi, and cheese (which I recommend, the gooey texture compliments the rice and curry). P100 toppings include stewed chicken, thin-sliced pork, fried squid, and fried fish. For more premium protein picks, toppings are priced P130, P160, and P180 each. There are over 20 toppings to choose from, so get creative with your curry! You can go meatless and vegetarian, as the curry itself is meat-free, and you can load up on the veggie and mushroom toppings. Highly recommended are the Sausage (P130) which is most popular in Japan, their Shrimp Cutlet (P180) generously stuffed with shrimp, and Cheese Hamburger (P180) because a burger with gooey cheese stuffed inside is just wonderful. Hubert Young personally recommends the Pari-Pari Chicken (P130) topping, which is a lightly fried version of the fried chicken, with a thinner and leaner crisp coating.
If you're too lazy to customize or don't want to take extra time to select on your own, let the menu be your guide for suggested combinations, their recommended mix menu displays photos of the combined toppings, to give you an idea of how your curry rice will look like. Curry rice isn't the most gorgeous of all Japanese dishes to photograph -- photogenic it is not, with its sauce an unattractive shade of brown. But the true test here, of course, it the actual taste, when the rice, curry, and topping combine in every bite.
Overall verdict of the new Japanese curry house is clear: the saucy curry is a superstar with flavors complementing each topping that your endless combinations will reap flavorful rewards. The curry and rice alone becomes a filling treat to eat that the many choices to build your own curry feast becomes a bonus. "Curry pa lang, ulam na!" one guest happily remarked. "We really did our research, and I think after you've tried the curry, you'll understand why we decided to bring CoCo Ichibanya here," Young shares. Soon to open, all within the year, are more branches in Metro Manila: Rockwell, Greenhills, BGC, Malate, and The Grove.
CoCo Ichibanya Philippines opens March 1, 2015, at the lower ground level of Estancia Mall, Capitol Commons, Pasig City. It will be open Mondays to Thursdays from 11am to 9pm, and Fridays to Sundays from 10am to 10pm. Call +632 696 1649, Like on Facebook (/CoCoIchibanyaPH) and follow on Instagram (@CoCoIchibanyaPH).