Many people are not aware of it, but Curry House CoCo Ichibanya, or just CoCo Ichiban as it is often called, has something in common with the game pachinko. Both are native to the Chubu Region of Japan (Nagoya City and surrounding region). The first CoCo Ichiban was opened in Nishi-Biwajima on the outskirts of Nagoya City in 1978. Not long after that, the corporate headquarters was established in its current location in Ichinomiya City, also outside of Nagoya.
Offering good, cheap food grew CoCo Ichiban from that first location to over 1,000 branches worldwide. While most locations are within Japan, some 100 are spread throughout Hawaii, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Their first overseas location was opened in Oahu, Hawaii in 1994.
The CoCo brand has recently grown to include other types of restruant, including “Pasta de CoCo,” specializing in ankake spaghetti (spaghetti dressed with liquid starch), Opened “Menya CoCo Ichi,” specializing in curry udon, “Kayusaryo Kassai” specializing in rice porridge, and “Nikkui Tei,” specializing in Hamburger steak, but none can compare to the popularity of the original brand.
The cool part about Coco is that you can pretty much get your curry anyway you like it-assuming you can impress upon the person taking your order what you want, that is. Barring any skill in Japanese, pantomime, or mentalist abilities, the menu has plenty of pictures at which you can gesture. The important things to remember when ordering is that you choose the picture of what you want-say the chicken katsu and vegetables curry first, and then you must choose your level of spice and rice size.
Choosing the spice means choosing either sweet, regular, or a level between 1 and 10. I realize that you may really like spicy food, but I caution you not to jump right into 10; mostly because it tastes like burning, and that is about it. I love spicy food, and I tried it once. I ate it, but I stick to 3 or 4 now. The thing to keep in mind about spice is that the guy throwing the ingredients in is making minimum wage, and there can be a pretty big difference between 3 for dinner on Wednesday, and 3 for lunch on Thursday, and yes, I do occasionally eat it that often!
The rice is measured in grams. 300 is standard. I am a pretty big guy, and you can tell from looking at me I like to eat, but 300g does me just fine. You can get anywhere from 100g to 600g. I have seen people eating the 600g portion, and frankly, it is a little frightening. Scarily enough, there is a notation on the menu that larger sizes are available upon request, but I cannot imagine the size of bowl they would have to use.
In addition to those basics, an advanced order could include multiple menu items both large and small. Extra vegetables, another katsu, cheese, natto, corn, garlic, scrambled eggs, bacon, or kimchi are all available for your dining pleasure. I myself like to stick to a nice simple order of a mince meat croquette, spinach, 300g of rice and level 3 of spice. I should probably vary that, but I do not like change.
There are also a range of additions available on the table when you get your food. None are required, but one of the powders makes it spicy, the dark brown sauce makes it a bit sweeter, and the pickled vegetables will also make it a bit sweeter. I use a little sauce and about a jar of pickles.
I have never really understood why curry has not caught on in the United States, where I am from. I cannot get enough of it here, and I worry that if I go home I might go into withdrawal symptoms and have to be rushed back for a quick bite. I am sure you have your own favorite combination of ingredients; why not let us know what it is by dropping a comment on the site?
If you are not already familiar, here is a link to the English version of the menu they offer. Some stores will have it ready for you, but I suppose if you are worried you could print it out and bring it with you.
One last factoid: The kanji in the name, ココ壱番屋 (CoCo Ichibanya), is exactly what it sounds like- Number 1. The kanji is a specialized and more formal version of the kanji for the number one that is used when writing contracts, etc. A friend described it as being similar to writing “ONE” instead of “1” in English, but I am sure it is somehow more complicated than that… kanji always is!
Photo-By kici (photography person kici) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Photo-By jetalone from Tokyo (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons