Testing the hypothesis that everything goes well with Japanese curry.

One of the things that makes Japanese curry so delicious is how versatile it is. It goes great with pork, beef, or chicken, and you can even toss in seafood like shrimp or tuna if you’re feeling fancy.

But what about bear?

That was a question our Japanese-language reporter Saya Togashi had never found herself pondering until her recent trip to Akita Prefecture, where she stepped into a souvenir shop. While checking out what sort of regional foodstuffs they had for sale, she spotted a pack of instant bear curry, with a very eye-catching package.

No cartoony teddy bear mascot here. Instead, the box has a photo of a tsukinowa bear, also known as the Japanese black bear. The meat for the bear curry is sourced from Lake Tazawa Hunting Association, which operates in Akita’s Tamagawa Region.

▼ Tamagawa

The front of the package says that this is a medium-spicy curry, rated at three out of five chili peppers in intensity. Less prominently displayed is this disclaimer on the back of the box:

“As this is wild game, there may occasionally be bear fur attached to the meat.”

Saya wasn’t sure if the prospect of hairy meat should be considered thrilling or terrifying, but having never tried bear meat before, she decided to pick up a pack for 1,080 yen (US$8.70). Once she got back home, she opened up the box and slipped out the pouch.

The pouch can be microwaved or boiled. Saya opted for the latter.

As the curry pack was heating, Saya thought back about some of the stories she’d heard about bear meat. While it’s not commonly eaten in most parts of Japan, hunting is part of Akita’s cultural heritage, going back to the traditional Matagi hunters who saw the animals they hunted as gifts from nature to be reverently appreciated, as well as Akita Inu dogs, which were originally bred to be hunting companions. Because of that, bear meat is sometimes eaten as part of nabe (Japanese-style hotpot), but Saya had heard that it has a particularly pungent, gamey smell.

Thankfully, though, there were no unpleasant odors when Saya poured out the contents of the heated pouch, just the enticing smell of curry!

The pouch is a single-person serving of curry, with two large pieces of bear meat and two chunks of potato. Naturally, Saya wanted her first bite to be of bear, so she scooped up a piece, lifted it up, took a bite, and…

…it was normal.

That might sound like faint praise, but Saya means that in the best possible way. The bear curry wasn’t crazy or unnatural tasting. Instead, it was meaty and satisfying, just like curry should be.

As for the meat itself, it was a little on the firm side in terms of texture, with a bit of snap to its tendons. However, if she hadn’t seen the box before eating it, she wouldn’t have guessed on her own that it was anything as unusual as bear. It was also a little richer than she’d expected. Since bears are wild animals, not livestock, she’d been expecting some super muscular meat, but there’s some fat to the meat too.

Though the curry was billed as “medium-spicy,” the roux actually tasted fairly mild to Saya. She’s not sure if that’s because the curry’s makers are overselling its heat, or if maybe there’s a natural sweetness to bear meat that smooths out the sharper edges of the curry’s spice. But Japanese-style curry is perfectly capable of being delicious without being spicy, and that’s very much the case here. Overall, it’s a very harmonious blend of flavors, belying the fact that the curry is made with wild game.

Again, since this was Saya’s first time eating bear meat, she’s not ready to make such a sweeping proclamation as “Bear meat is great!” For all she knows, this is the only way of preparing the meat that she’d enjoy, and it’s also possible that the Lake Tazawa Hunting Association was able to provide some exceptionally high-quality meat for the product. What she can say, though, is that this particular bear curry is delicious.

Photos © SoraNews24
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