This past weekend, Yuko and myself went to a Curry Festival at ASPAM, (the Aomori Tourist Center) which is located a 5 minute walk from JR Aomori Station in Aomori City.
I went to the 1st Curry Festival they had 2 years ago, and because it was such a hit, it has grown to the point of attracting massive crowds and long lines each time. This time it was the 5th Curry Festival they had in the past 2 years. If you aren’t too familiar with Japanese curry, or “curry rice” as it is often called, it has become a regular part of the Japanese diet since being introduced to Japan about over 100 years ago. It is mainly different from Indian curry in the fact that its has a mild less-spicy taste, and is somewhat similar to beef stew. Japanese curry is enjoyed by all ages and is a frequent favorite on the school lunch menu.
In the past two decades, local varieties of curry have sprung up all over Japan. Many places have come up with a unique curry featuring its famous local foods. Aomori has a lot of different foods it is famous for, so it is only natural that it would also have a lot of curries to be sampled, hence the start of this festival!
Anyway, I had heard that there are long lines of people gathered to try all the different curries so we decided to get there early. It started at 10 am, but we thought 10 am was still a bit too early for curry so we got there at 11am, and lo and behold, a crowd was already gathering!
Like I said, Aomori has a lot of famous foods, so they have 14 different curries to sample. Each plate of curry had a rather good helping of curry poured of hot steamed Japanese rice, a pretty good serving for only 200 Yen a plate! Here is just a sample of the great curries we sampled.
As you probably know, Aomori is the apple capital of Japan. Kogyoku or as it is known in English, the Jonathan Apple, is a well-loved cultivar here in Aomori for its tart taste. It’s often used in cooking apple pies and other baked goods, and well sometimes it is even made into curry! There were actually a whole bunch of different apple curries, but the nice rich red color of the Jonathan Apple Curry is my personal favorite.
Aomori is also famous for its scallops, making Scallop Curry a must-try item! Scallops definitely go well with curry, but I think if you are going to eat Aomori scallops, be sure to also try them sashimi style, they are simply to die for. Anyway, moving on to my favorite curry they had… Garlic Curry! I figure that if you are going to end up with curry breath, you might as well go all out and eat it with plenty of garlic! This curry was made with garlic from Takko, a small town in Aomori Prefecture that is famous for its garlic, earning it the status of being the garlic capital of Japan. If you ever have a chance to visit, please go! If you time it right, you can go when the sweet aroma of garlic permeates the entire town!
This time there was also a major attraction added to the menu, “Hokki-gai Domburi” or simply said in English, a clam rice bowl. While not curry, this dish from Misawa City has been very popular in the past few years, and a lot of people travel to Misawa to eat it. A bowl containing rice, nori seaweed, pickled mountain vegetables, thinly sliced nagaimo yams (another speciality of Aomori), is topped off with fresh hokki-gai clams (a type of surf clam native to Northern Japan up through Siberia). They did have some of these clams in curry, but eating this was the perfect finish to the several plates of curry we devoured.
And if that wasn’t enough, they had a lottery game where you could turn a wheel for a chance to win some curry sauces to enjoy at home. So we each gave it a spin…
Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything, but we felt like we won enough already after feasting on all of these great curries of Aomori. I also had was in dire need of a breath mint, proof of another excellent Curry Festival.