I made Japanese curry for the family not long ago, during the recent cold snap when temps were actually winterish, which is a fine time for curry. The Japanese call it that – pronounced more like “ka-ree,” but it doesn’t feature the same constellation of spices you might find in Indian curries. It’s a lot milder than most Indian curries, in fact, but does have some kick to it, and satisfies in the winter.
Or even in the summer, if the building is air-conditioned. Curry shops in Japan were usually simple places, like my favorite, a hole-in-the-wall along the underground shopping arcade near the JR Osaka Station in Umeda. The place was curry through and through, starting with the distinct smell as you walked in. You could order curry only about five difference ways there, and the only difference was the kind of meat on top. Otherwise you got a mound of rice overlaid with dark, mildly spicy sauce thick enough not to run around to the edges of the big round plate. A 500- or 600-yen meal, popular with salarymen.
Curry at home is a little different. Salaryman curry doesn't come with a lot of vegetables mixed in, so my techniques tends toward few vegetables, though I add some – onions, broccoli, carrots – out of deference to Yuriko’s style, which includes more. Curry sauce mix comes in an assortment of brands and spice intensities. Most recently, we had S&B Tasty Curry Sauce Mix, 200g, Mild (that so that children will eat it). Sauté some meat and the onions together, boil the other vegetables in a certain amount of water, add the meat and onions to the pot with the other vegetables, then add the curry mix. It comes as six or eight blocks connected together like the blocks in a chocolate bar might be. Simmer all that mess until the blocks melt, and there you have it. Curry for dummies.
The box of S&B that we buy at Mitsuwa market, the Japanese grocery store in the northwest suburbs, is clearly made for export: everything’s labeled in both Japanese and English, and not just the quickie stick-on English labels, either. Naturally, I took a look at the ingredient panel. Health nags recommend this, of course, but I’ve been doing it for years, mostly out of curiosity. Where else can you find delights like gum agar (I wondered about that for years) or lines like palm and/or coconut and/or canola oil – which, as a fellow I once knew pointed out, meant whichever was a penny per gallon cheaper from the wholesaler that day.
S&B brand contains: Edible oils (palm oil, canola oil), wheat flour, sugar, salt, curry powder [meaning, as far as I can tell, whatever spices are handy and reasonably spicy], powdered vegetables (potato, sweet potato, cabbage, Chinese cabbage) [which could be pei tsai, pak choy, green baby pak choy, nabana, sun yat sen or mao tse-tung varieties.], monosodium glutamate (flavor enhancer)… [Oh no, dread MSG! Bet you could serve it to people without their knowing, and record no ill effects. Yes, that’s what happens in a double-blind study, and they seem to have been done. But no! The MSG industrial complex paid for that crooked research! I’m sure it gives me a headache and causes millions of people such ill heath that they can’t get out of bed for months at a time.] … dextrin, caramel color, spices, powdered Worcestershire sauce [a novel concept, that], hydrolyzed vegetable protein (soybean), malic acid, disodium guanylate and disodium insosinate [These last two, also flavor enhancers, are also evil twins in league with MSG, if you believe breathless web sites about the matter. I’ll take my chances.]