Around Japan in 47 curries: Chiba mackerel curry

This is Part 4 of a 47-part series of weekly blog posts looking at curries from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

The first time I ever set foot in Japan was when I stepped off a plane at what is now Narita International Airport in the summer of 1989 to begin work as an English teacher on the JET Program.

Map by Lincun for Wikimedia Commons

Map by Lincun for Wikimedia Commons

Narita’s official name back then was New Tokyo International Airport, but it was far outside of Tokyo, in the middle of northern Chiba Prefecture. I would spend the next two years living in the capital, Chiba City, writing countless letters back to America in which I explained that not only Tokyo’s main airport but also Tokyo Disneyland and the Tokyo Motor Show (then held at the Makuhari Messe), and various other things with “Tokyo” in their names, were all actually in Chiba.

But even if parts of Chiba were lost in the overflow of the Tokyo sprawl, it still had distinctive areas of its own. The southern half of the prefecture is the mountainous Boso Peninsula, which separates Tokyo Bay from the Pacific Ocean. North of the peninsula on the Pacific side is Kujukuri beach, a 66-kilometer stretch of smooth, flat sand that extends all the way to Choshi, an old fishing town on the Kanto region’s easternmost point of land. There, on a rocky bluff overlooking the sea, is Choshi’s main tourist attraction, a 31-meter-tall lighthouse built in the 1870s.

AA light

Like many towns in Japan, Choshi is suffering from demographic and economic decline. According to central government statistics cited by Wikipedia, its population dropped from 90,415 to 70,225 over the three decades to 2010. According to the city’s own website, the figure was 69,211 a year after that, with people in their 20s accounting for the overwhelmingly greatest share of population outflow over the past decade.

On a visit to Choshi last year, I noticed many businesses that appeared permanently shuttered, including a hotel just a block from the famous lighthouse. But Choshi does have a few things going for it. Two major soy sauce companies, Yamasa and Higeta, have factories there. And its history as a center of the fish cannery business led to the existence of this week’s curry: canned mackerel.

AA can

When I popped open the can, my nose was hit by a strong fishy odor that momentarily reminded me of cat food. This did not seem promising, but the smell disipated within a few seconds. By the time I heated it up in the microwave and poured it over some rice, there was nothing objectionable about it.

AA dish

You definitely need to like fish if you are going to eat this curry, but its flavor turned out to be surprisingly mild. It was absolutely packed with solid chunks of mackerel, with the skin still on. It was much meatier—and more of a meal—than most Japanese curries I have tasted up to now. It’s comes in a small, single-serving can (190 grams), but most of that can, by volume, is full of fish.

The first three ingredents are listed as “Vegetables (potatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, ginger), mackerel, curry powder…” If they hadn’t lumped the vegtables together as a single item, I’m sure that mackerel would have come first.

If you like seafood, try this curry and help a struggling town.

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