In an underground restaurant in Harajuku, BagBag serves up Hokkaido soup curry that’s like a hug for your stomach.
Braised pork belly soup curry. - image © Florentyna Leow
To me, Hokkaido soup curry is one of the greatest Japanese culinary inventions of the last few decades. It’s exactly as it sounds - a thin soup flavored with Indian spices and herbs, packed with meat (optional) and vegetables, served with rice on the side. In a land famed for its lack of spices (Japan), soup curry is an explosion of spice, heat and flavor. Most importantly, there’s a heavy emphasis on vegetables you don’t see in most casual dining options in Japan, making soup curry a lighter, healthier option when you have a curry itch to scratch. Whenever I want a variety of cooked vegetables while dining solo, I hit up a soup curry joint.
The entrance to BagBag Harajuku. - image © Florentyna Leow
BagBag in Harajuku isn’t the best soup curry restaurant in town, but I love it - a meal here is like a hug for your stomach and soul. At my first job in Tokyo, which I’ve since left, having lunch here was about the only thing I looked forward to on most days. Now that my job has brought me back to a nearby neighborhood, BagBag is still the place I come to when I’ve had a bad day at work and need something comforting. Just a few weeks ago on a chilly Friday evening, my colleague and I emerged from a particularly grueling workday, and headed straight here for a dinner of hot, bubbling, cheesy soup curry.
What you see when you walk down to the basement - it’s a small shop. - image © Florentyna Leow
To get here, take Exit 6 from Meijijingumae Harajuku Station. You’ll see a shop on the corner called Condomania. Turning right down the small street parallel to the main road (Meiji-dori), walk down the small street until you see BagBag on your left. Walk down to the basement. It’s usually never that busy.
At lunch, they also have a self-service salad bar. You’re limited to one bowl of salad and one drink. - image © Florentyna Leow
I’ve been coming here for years, and have eaten my way through most of the menu. The menu hasn’t changed much, and there are English lines here and there to help you. The belly pork curry is a stunner, and the one I tend to gravitate towards. Motsu is all about the intestines, and if you love offal that’s the one to order. All of them come with a variety of vegetables. It’s hard to go wrong here.
The menu has some limited English translations on it. - image © Florentyna Leow
What I love about this soup curry place - and most restaurants of this ilk, really - is how you can customize your bowl. At BagBag, you’ll choose from three soup bases: Japanese-style, with a sesame and dashi stock base; a tomato soup base; and coconut, which is an additional JPY100.
You can specify the spice levels, which will run from 1 to 30. (It’s an odd numbering system, as you’ll see from the menu.) Basically, the more intense the red color, the spicier it will be. They’ll charge for extra spice from Level 4 onwards. I find that Level 4 or 5 hits the sweet spot for me, but I also like eating curry while sniffling. Choose your rice size: small, medium, large (JPY100), super large (JPY150). Melted cheese in your soup is optional, but completely necessary in my book.
You can ask them to take out any vegetables you dislike. I usually ask them to leave out the potato. Additional toppings are available - I’ve translated these as follows:
JPY100 toppings: natto, half-boiled egg, pumpkin, okra, broccoli, lotus root, potato, seaweed paste
JPY150 toppings: wiener sausages, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, mini meat patty
JPY250 toppings: minced lamb, minced pork, thin pork slices
JPY300 toppings: chicken, belly pork, meat patty, bacon, mixed vegetables
But enough about that - onward to the main event.
Braised pork belly curry and a medium rice on the side. - image © Florentyna Leow
Soup curry here arrives in a boiling hot claypot, with rice and lemon on the side. Squeeze your lemon over the rice or soup - whichever you like. It goes without saying, but don’t burn yourself on the pot. It Isn’t it beautiful? You have a nutty, spicy soup with liberal quantities of sesame and seaweed stirred in. Charred broccoli, sweet okra, tender deep-fried aubergine, crunchy lotus root… all your vegetables with different textures are there. And the belly pork! I’ve eaten this braised belly pork soup curry so many times that BagBag ought to make me their ambassador. It is what Chinese people call “half-fat, half-lean,” braised until tender, with just the right ratio of lean meat to melting fat. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t eat the fat, forget about the pork and order the chicken. But you’ll be missing out.
A thin curry soup that’s filling, but not as heavy as a roux-based one. - image © Florentyna Leow
BagBag is not the best soup curry in Tokyo. (I’m pretty sure that will be in Shimokitazawa, which, empirically speaking, looks like the district with the highest number of soup curry restaurants per capita.) You’re not here for the excellent service (it’s alright), and it’s never going to win a Michelin star. It’s a dimly-lit underground curry joint where the food is not particularly Instagrammable. But it is one of my favorite meals in Tokyo. It’s never let me down, and I’m pretty sure it won’t let you down either.
Soup Curry BagBag Harajuku
Name in Japanese
B1F, Sukegawa Building, 6-29-2, Jingumae, Shibuya Tokyo
東京都 渋谷区 神宮前 6-29-2 助川ビル B1F
11am~3pm, L.O. 2.30pm
11:30am~11pm, L.O. 10:30pm (Tues - Sun, public holidays)
Yes (Non-smoking until 2.30pm)
Meijijingumae Station (Chiyoda Metro), Harajuku Station (JR)
:: Read customer reviews of Soup Curry BagBag on TripAdvisor
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