The bah is set pretty lo for this curry.

CoCo Ichibanya is Japan’s largest curry chain, but like many huge chain restaurants, the emphasis tends to be on reliable flavors that are palatable to the masses rather than daring and bold flavor experiments. But from 1 March they decided to really mix things up and started offering Lo Bah Spice Curry.

This is based on the Taiwanese dish loh ba png, which is minced pork in a flavorful sauce served on rice. According to CoCo Ichibanya, this taste is achieved with the help of five-spice powder, which is a seasoning commonly used in Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine. The exact spices can vary but they tend to be rather bold in taste and are intended to represent the five flavors of sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and savory.

Common sense would suggest that adding five-spice powder to curry, which is already a rather complex mélange of spices, is a recipe for flavor chaos. However, since CoCo Ichibanya tends to make curry on the simpler side, this could end up working out.

To find out, our reporter Takashi Harada went to his nearest location to try some. The basic curry and rice cost 1,070 yen (US$7.25) but he was advised to get it with a soft-boiled egg for an additional 120 yen.

After about five minutes of waiting, his Lo Bah Spice Curry arrived in all its glory… or as much glory as CoCo Ichibanya could muster.

Takashi was a little underwhelmed by the appearance since 1,070 yen was a rather premium price for something from a chain restaurant. However, it did have a very distinct and potent aroma. A common component of five-spice powder is star anise, which has a rather complex combination of sweet and spicy flavors and a strong aroma, which came out front and center in this curry.

As for the taste, our writer wasn’t surprised that CoCo Ichibanya hadn’t painstakingly recreated the taste of lo bah png, but it wasn’t a bad attempt either. It was a less flavorful affair, but the ample toppings of bamboo shoots, shiitake, and mustard greens added a lot of depth to the texture. By far, the main character of this dish were the small cuts of braised pork.

Also, the marriage of five-spice powder and curry was surprisingly good. There were some additional sweet notes to the curry flavor and the overall spiciness of it was well balanced. This curry was also a lot thinner than the kind usually served here which made it go down smooth and created a lighter meal in the end.

All in all, it was a very nice dish and Takashi’s only complaint was the rather high price, which will probably keep him from ordering it again. Still, he’d recommend it to anyone to try once, just as long as they aren’t put off by strong smells, particularly that of star anise.

If that’s not a deal breaker, be sure to hop down to a CoCo Ichibanya near you because the Lo Bah Spice Curry is only available while supplies last after April.

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