And it’s not something we would ever have thought to try!
You might not think of curry as Japanese food, but Japan has certainly developed its own version of curry, which has become a staple meal in most households. What’s more, some people even consider themselves curry maniacs, and our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa is one himself. In fact, while experimenting with curry, he recently found an unexpected secret ingredient that brings your average store-bought curry roux to a whole other level.
The problem is, he only found it by experimenting with adding different ingredients to curry to see what would transform it into something that wasn’t curry. In other words, things you shouldn’t add to curry. The ingredients Seiji tested were natto (fermented soybeans), potato chips, azuki (red bean paste), cheesecake, and durian, a notoriously stinky fruit.
Yes, they’re pretty out-there ingredients, because Seiji was, after all, aiming to skirt the boundaries of appropriate ingredients. And yet, Seiji had no idea that one of these would work some cooking magic and level up his curry into something supremely delicious.
First, Seiji tried the natto, but the result was not surprising. Curry with natto was certainly still curry, which was to be expected since natto curry is an actual thing. Still, it was good to establish a baseline.
Seiji wondered next how the potato chips would affect curry, so he mixed some into a fresh bowl. The result was…still curry. Though no one would ordinarily put potato chips in curry, and eating soggy potato chips was a pretty new experience, they’re still made from potatoes, which are standard ingredients in most curries. As such, potato chips ended up being a pretty safe experiment.
Now was the time to toe the line a bit, because it was the azuki’s turn. Red bean paste is about the most farfetched flavor you could think of to add to curry. Likely no curry shop has ever offered it as a topping; in fact, Seiji would not have even thought to try it if not for this experiment. He could not fathom what it might taste like mixed into curry.
After adding the azuki and giving it a good stir, the curry got a little darker, but it still looked like curry. It did, however, have the obvious appearance of red beans mixed in. And how did it taste? Well, let us first say that the azuki Seiji used wasn’t no-sugar-added azuki; it was saccharine sweet azuki meant for making sweets. And with that in mind, Seiji tasted it…
…and it tasted like curry. In fact, the roux that Seiji used to make the original curry was just your average store-bought roux, but the addition of the red bean paste gave it a richness that reminded him of European-style curry. Seiji might have put a bit too much in, but even so, the curry was still just as delicious as usual.
Since the red bean paste melded well with the curry and even melted a bit (unlike the potato chips), it actually felt like a fairly appropriate topping. Besides, you can use the amount of azuki to adjust the spice level of the curry, so it’s actually a more useful ingredient than either natto or potato chips.
Though the azuki may have seemed like a strange ingredient, it actually ended up pairing well with curry. But if azuki beans, with their less intense “sweets” vibe, served to accentuate the flavor of curry, then would a more serious dessert–say, cheesecake–be too much?
Out of all the ingredients, it did seem like the most un-curry-like ingredient; on the spectrum of food, it had to be on the complete opposite side from curry. Mixing curry with cheesecake sounded like mixing ice and fire. Honestly, Seiji was afraid to try it.
After he mixed them together, the color of the cheesecake and the color of the curry blended to create a wholly unappetizing shade of putrid green. Well, he did put in a whole slice.
Filled with trepidation, Seiji lifted his spoon and slurped some up, and…
…it actually kind of tasted like butter chicken curry!
Seiji had used the same average store-bought curry roux, so it was meant to taste like standard homemade curry. But the addition of the cheesecake gave it a creamy, rich, deep flavor that was highly reminiscent of butter chicken. And, of course, it was definitely still curry.
This new curry had the same thickness as a standard homemade curry, but the flavor seemed like it would be better paired with naan than with rice. Rather than destroying the essence of the curry, the addition of the cheesecake brought out the best parts of both the dessert and the curry, honing the balance so finely it was like threading a needle of flavor. It was incredible how a simple slice of cheesecake could create something so beautiful.
So far, everything Seiji had tried had either hardly changed the curry at all or improved it tremendously. But now it was time for the last boss: the durian. For the sake of journalism, Seiji had to do the unthinkable before adding it to the curry.
He had to sniff it.
The pungent, traumatizing smell of the world’s stinkiest fruit slapped the coherent thoughts right out of Seiji’s head. “What does it mean for something to become ‘un-curry-like’ anyway?” he mumbled, stumbling away from the offensive smell. “What am I even doing this for? Nobody wants to know about this!”
We had to mix the durian in for him.
Only once Seiji had recovered his faculties and had enough sense and sensibility to taste the durian curry, we let him. It was…
…like any smooth, fruity curry.
“Curry is so amazing!!” Seiji screamed, leaping from his chair. (Okay, maybe he hadn’t quite recovered, but to be fair, the curry had pretty much erased the intense smell of the durian, which Seiji hadn’t expected.)
So, based on Seiji’s assessments, which one do you think is the super-powered secret ingredient? The answer may be obvious. It was…
To be frank, other popular curry toppings like cheese or chocolate have nothing on cheesecake when it comes to enhancing curry. The amount of richness it brought to the flavor was out of this world. And to think, Seiji might not have ever discovered this amazing secret ingredient without experimenting with ingredients that would make curry “un-curry-like”.
Speaking of which, all of Seiji’s experiments failed! Which means he’s got to try putting even more bizarre foods in curry, a feat that seems far more difficult than expected, given curry’s surprising adaptableness. What should he try next? Don Quixote shiitake mushroom snacks? Or maybe chocolate fish? Hmm…the sky really is the limit.