Mokubaza’s keema curry is the heavenly holy trinity of stewed meat, melted cheese and egg yolk. It’s a great way to fill up while exploring Harajuku or Shibuya.
The moment after breaking the yolk. - image © Florentyna Leow
Japan is rather adept at adapting dishes from other cuisines, and absorbing them into the Japanese culinary landscape. Ramen is a good example: this Chinese dish was tweaked and developed until it took on entirely Japanese flavors and sensibilities. Keema curry is another of those dishes which has, in recent years, become part and parcel of modern Japanese cuisine.
Keema is a dish from the Indian subcontinent made with spiced ground meat and minced vegetables, and it’s become so prevalent in curry form at cafes and curry specialist restaurants here that I tend to think of it as more Japanese than Indian or Nepalese! Part of what makes some keema curries here ‘feel’ more Japanese is the way it’s served - you wouldn’t really see keema paired with sticky short-grain Japanese rice, often topped with cheese or an egg, outside of Japanese-style restaurants.
Lovely serif metal plated letters spelling the restaurant’s name next to the door. - image © Florentyna Leow
A great place to try Japanese-style keema is at Mokubaza, a small restaurant specializing in keema curry rice. This curry institution is located in the quiet Jingumae neighborhood at the north end of Harajuku, and it’s popular with office workers in the area as well as young women in their twenties. I suspect this is partly because Harajuku tends to attract the latter demographic. Mokubaza is quite near my workplace, so from time to time I duck out for a quick lunch here.
The handwritten sign reads “To customers who are queuing: please leave a space in the queue in front of the staircase so that the residents can pass through.” - image © Florentyna Leow
The handwritten sign above, located around the corner from Mokubaza, indicates that it’s popular enough that there are queues around the block on some days. However, because a good proportion of their customers are local office workers on their lunch break, Mokubaza’s turnover is relatively quick. If you arrive within 30 minutes from opening time (which is at 11:30am) on a weekday, you shouldn’t have to wait very long if at all. I went on a Thursday at 5 to noon, and was seated within 5 minutes.
This photograph was taken at 1pm on Friday afternoon. - image © Florentyna Leow
You’ll want to avoid peak hours, around 1pm. The queue above is testament to that! It’s definitely easiest if you’re dining solo or with just one other person - you’ll be seated much faster that way.
The back of the sandwich board has an English menu. Prices on this are not up-to-date. - image © Florentyna Leow
Mokubaza doesn’t have an English menu inside the shop, but I discovered that the back of their sandwich board outside has a briefly translated version of their menu. They generally serve variations on their keema curry, and the most popular dish is cheese keema curry, which comes topped with a raw egg yolk. Some also order it with coriander, avocado, vegetables or roasted tomatoes. Depending on the day, they may also have baked versions, which turn out rather like cheesy gratin - delicious if you like it that style.
I’d like a chandelier like that for my apartment. - image © Florentyna Leow
The interior is cozy and charming, with big band jazz playing in the background, and illustration books and music CDs lining the walls. Mokubaza apparently turns into a bar in the evenings, and while you can have curry for dinner, they also require you to order a drink. It looks like it would be a fantastically atmospheric place at night!
The free side salad - image © Florentyna Leow
My curry arrived within 15 minutes of ordering, which was pretty fast considering there are just 3 staff members in this operation. In the interim, they serve a small side salad with hard-boiled egg whites. The combination was a little perplexing at first, but given the number of egg yolks they must go through every single day serving their signature dish, it’s a practical way to use the whites up.
It looks like a giant fried egg. - image © Florentyna Leow
Everyone orders the cheese keema curry rice. It’s almost abstract-looking – an impressively smooth cap of melted mozzarella cheese covers the mound of rice and keema curry, like a sheet of Lycra. A single vibrant egg yolk is nestled in a small well atop. While waiting for my order, I heard girls at adjacent tables gushing over how cute the egg yolks were, and watched them photograph the oozing yolks after they’d broken them.
Cheesy keema curry goodness - image © Florentyna Leow
I’d been to Mokubaza earlier this year for a business meeting, but had been more focused on talking at the time. This time I was able to concentrate on eating, and it was far more delicious than I remembered. I love their keema and how spicy it is - not hot-burning-spicy but flavorful-spicy. Specifically, the fragrant cardamom and clove flavors come through quite strongly, and copious amounts of black pepper leave your tongue pleasantly warm and tingly. The keema is also drier, not saucy, which makes the flavor more concentrated and robust - perfect with the white rice.
This photo was taken at 12:30pm on a Thursday afternoon - image © Florentyna Leow
There is very little that can go wrong with the holy combination of stewed meat, melted cheese and egg yolk. Mokubaza’s keema curry hits all the sweet spots in this regard. If you’re in Harajuku, go. Even if you weren’t really planning to be in Harajuku, go anyway. Just be considerate if there’s a queue outside, and don’t tarry too long over your meal!
Name in Japanese:
2-28-12 Jingumae Shibuya Tokyo
11:30～15:00 (L.O 14:30) (Mon~Sat)
19:30~23:30 (L.O. 23:00) (Tues~Sat - bar hours)
Non-smoking at lunch; smoking in the evenings
Kitasando Station (6-minute walk), Harajuku Station (9-minute walk)
:: Read customer reviews of Mokubaza on TripAdvisor
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