1. Apsara, rice and curry wrapped in banana leaf
    Photo: Kisa Toyoshima「スリランカカレーのバナナリーフ包み」
  2. Dhaba India
    Photo: Dhaba India
  3. ゼロツー ナシカンダール トーキョー
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

5 best non-Japanese curry rice in Tokyo

These Malaysian and South Asian curry and rice dishes will fire up your palate – in a way that leaves you wanting more

Lim Chee Wah
Written by
Lim Chee Wah

Some days, you just need fire on your tongue and heat in your belly. Spice is addictive. The bold, punchy flavours, when balanced well, is a joy to eat. They make food invariably more appetising, and the best accompaniment to all that curry and gravy is steamed white rice to soak it all up.

Whenever you need a break from the clean flavours of Japanese cooking, pick a restaurant from this spicy list. From Malaysian nasi kandar to Indian thali and Sri Lankan curry and rice, these hot meals will give you the excitement you need in your life – or at least in your daily diet.

RECOMMENDED: Best cheap eats in Tokyo

  • Restaurants
  • Waseda

The unassuming Apsara in Shinjuku is one of the city's best Sri Lankan restaurants, with a comprehensive menu offering some of the island nation's most beloved dishes. 

The highlight here is the beautifully presented and generously portioned rice and curry wrapped in banana leaf (¥1,760). This gorgeous parcel of Sri Lankan goodness offers a jumble of meat and seafood curries, vegetable side dishes, various chutney and toppings including hard-boiled egg, mackarel croquette and crispy papadam (thin deep-fried crisp). It's a feast for sure: just mix it all up and enjoy the riot of flavours with fluffly basmati rice.

The type of curry you’ll get varies depending on the day. The extensive menu offers a hint of what you could get and the curry selection looks very promising, from pork and prawn to cashew nuts and scallops and more.

  • Restaurants
  • Malaysian
  • Otemachi

Nasi Kandar is a one-plate rice meal, piled high with meats and vegetables and drenched in curry and gravy. The bombastic dish came from the Indian Muslim community in Penang, an island in Malaysia well-loved for its vibrant street food culture.

The nasi kandar at Zero Two is authentic – and reasonably priced between ¥1,000 and ¥1,980. The dishes on offer are extensive and you’ll see them all laid out at the ordering station. Brace yourself as you’ll be spoilt for choice. First, decide on a main dish: hard boiled egg (with a gooey yolk, no less), grilled chicken, deep-fried lamb cutlet, fish fingers and a vegetarian option. Then your preferred base: plain white rice or biryani rice.

Now this is where the fun begins. From the selection of vegetables, choose three side dishes. Then, two curries out of six. The chicken curry as well as the prawn and squid curry are exceptional. There’s also a vegetarian curry and a seasonal option. To finish, the server will throw in some stir-fried bean sprouts and boiled okra for good measure. There’s a lot on the plate, and that’s the joy of nasi kandar. It’s a generous meal, both in portion and in flavour.

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Kyobashi

This atmopsheric restaurant near Tokyo Station's Yaesu exit is popular among the Indian community in the city, and for good reason. The chefs here produce magnificent South Indian cuisine, and they don’t dilute the authentic spiciness of the region's cooking for the Japanese palate.

Indeed, the three curries that form the ¥1,300 weekday lunch set pack quite some punch. The curries you get vary depending on the day's specials, but they are always complemented with sambar (lentil and vegetable stew), rasam (soup), bhatura (fluffy deep-fried bread), papadum (deep-fried crisp) and basmati rice – all neatly arranged on a stainless steel platter. 

The weekend lunch set (¥1,750) offers similar assortment of dishes, but presented beautifully on a piece of banana leaf. Plus, you get a mini dessert. And you might want to order that lassi, because the heat from the spices at Dhaba India is real.

  • Restaurants
  • Bistros
  • Kayabacho

Sister restaurant to the beloved Spice Cafe in Sumida, Hoppers serves elevated Sri Lankan cuisine in a chic, contemporary setting. The affordably priced ¥1,650 lunch is a refined version of the Sri Lankan soul food curry and rice, where you get a curry of your choice plus nine side dishes including a beautifully caramelised stir-fried eggplant, toasted coconut sambol and fried fish. The best way to enjoy all these different flavours is to mix them all up with the rice. Don't worry, rice is refillable for free, while you can add another curry for ¥500.

Lunch curries differ from day to day, but generally there are chicken, pork and seafood options.

  • Restaurants
  • Nepali
  • Nakameguro

After building up a cult following with its stellar curries at Carnism in Azabu-juban, Adi has opened its own venue in Nakameguro. The cosy restaurant, which seats only nine people, serves modern Nepalese cuisine using local ingredients sourced from across Japan. 

Lunch on weekdays is affordably priced. The dal-bhat curry and rice set will only set you back ¥2,000. The platter comes with a variety of dishes including a dal black lentil soup cooked with buffalo ghee and wild garlic, a cardamom-based chicken curry, two types of vegetables and three types of achar (South Asian pickles), all to be enjoyed with basmati and Japanese blended steam rice. While the spice mix here is more refined than fiery, the dishes don't stray far from the region's characteric flavours, making them equally as satisfying.

The lunch set also comes with chai, which you can have at the end of your meal, either hot or iced.

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