By Keita Kodama / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterOSAKA — More and more eateries in Osaka are offering what is believed to be the city’s original “spice curry” as a complement to alcohol. This may seem like an odd combination at first, but the aroma of the spices and the subtle flavors of dashi broth in the curry can go well with sake and other alcohol. These dishes of curry that accompany alcohol (dubbed “ate-curry”) are also increasingly popular among curry aficionados.
Spice curry is said to have been created about 30 years back, with its popularity taking off just a few years ago. There are no hard-and-fast rules about ingredients or how to prepare it, but spice curry does not generally use flour or solid blocks of roux — typical in Japanese curry. Various combinations of turmeric, cumin and other such spices can be found, with some eateries even using Sichuan pepper. The predominant style is to arrange multiple curries and side dishes on one plate. Some eateries have even branched out to Tokyo.
On a recent visit to Vege’n, a standing bar in Chuo Ward that began operating only at night in 2016, a 35-year-old man ordered ate-curry for the first time.
“If you pair a slightly sweet alcohol, it sets off the aroma and spiciness of the curry,” he said as he held a glass mug of beer in his hand. “This is a new discovery for me.”
Vege’n only serves ate-curries, such as one that uses broth prepared with sea bream for ¥1,200 and a daily special of seasonal vegetables and seafood. Rice is served upon request.
The alcoholic offerings on the menu are distinctive as well, including its Osaka Spice Lemon Sour (¥450) made using a multitude of spices.
The establishment has become popular through word of mouth. Lately, there is a notable number of customers from outside the Kansai area as well.
“You can create many different flavors depending on how you combine the spices, and enjoy them with a wide variety of alcohol,” said proprietor Megumi Mizumoto, 38. “I want to expand our customer base under the slogan, ‘Let’s drink with curry!’”
In Kobe, New Yasudaya opened in Hyogo Ward in March as another example of an eatery specializing in spiced-up dishes to accompany alcohol. Its signature item is mutton flavored with masala. Connoisseurs pair it with rum from Nepal or coconut liquor from Sri Lanka.
“Slightly idiosyncratic drinks go great with spicy foods,” said proprietor Yuki Fujimura, 41.
Back in Osaka, the curry restaurant Kitahama Choji in Chuo Ward always stocks about 15 different types of sake. Its Japanese-style curry, made with dashi broth prepared with bonito flakes and shiitake, goes well with the delicate flavors of sake. Many customers also order it to finish off their night after having some drinks.
Manufacturers of alcoholic beverages are also seizing on the popularity of ate-curries as a business opportunity.
Asahi Breweries Ltd., for example, features on its website about 20 curry recipes supervised by a food coordinator. Each recipe introduces which types of wine, beer or other alcoholic beverage to pair with the dish.
In May, Kirin Holdings Co. ran a feature on its e-commerce site about enjoying wine with spicy food.
The Takashimaya department store’s Osaka shop, meanwhile, collaborated with local spice curry restaurants when it held its regular sake festival in April. Dishes prepared with sake lees were popular among visitors.
In its latest edition, “Kyukyoku no Karee, Kansai-ban” (Ultimate curry: Kansai edition), a magazine-style book published by Pia Corp., introduces eateries that offer course meals with ate-curry.
“People appreciate the flexibility and originality of proprietors’ approach of ‘If it tastes good, anything goes,’” said editor Hideaki Suzuki. “These establishments will likely spread even more as places enthusiasts will zero in on.”Speech