Around Japan in 47 curries: Akita mushroom

Map by Lincun via Wikimedia Commons

Map by Lincun via Wikimedia Commons

This is Part 6 of a 47-part series of weekly blog posts looking at curries from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

Akita Prefecture has a quaint tradition of threatening children with knives. On New Year’s Eve, shaggy monsters called namahage stalk from house to house in twos and threes, brandishing giant knives and demanding to confront lazy kids, spoiled kids, and crybabies.

Akita is in northern Japan, where the winters are cold, and in the old days it must have been tempting to stay inside by the fire rather than going out to work in the woods or fields. Children who sat with their feet dangling into the irori—a traditional Japanese fireplace in the form of a pit in the middle of the floor—might end up with blisters on their soles. Namahage, whose name derives from “blister peeler,” see such blisters as a sign of laziness, and threaten to cut them off with their fearsome knives.

To see how scary namahage can be, watch this video I made of three such monsters who came down to visit Tokyo in 2011:

Fortunately for any children who are threatened by namahage, protective parents can appease the monsters by offering them a cup of sake and something to eat. Namahage are known to enjoy eating mochi, but in a pinch you might try offering them some Akita Prefecture curry instead.

The curry I just tried from that prefecture is made with chicken and mushrooms.

In contrast to last week’s sweet and oily (and delicious) chicken curry from Tokushima Prefecture, this chicken curry was more of what I consider typically Japanese, in that it was based on a thick dark gravy that was only mildly spicy. Also, it included only about two bites of chicken.

Akita curry 001 The mushrooms were its saving grace. There was a generous quantity of them, and their springy texture added a welcome spark of life to the heavy combination of thick sauce and sticky rice.

I would have identified the mushrooms as shimeji—a standard item at any Japanese supermarket—but the ingredient label described them more specifically as buna-shimeji, or beech shimeji. As far as I can tell, there is little or no botanical, mycological or culinary distinction between shimeji and buna-shimeji, but in the course of my investigation I learned that Akita and neighboring Aomori prefecture share the vast Shirakami-Sanchi beech forest, which has been declared a World Heritage site.

So it’s appropriate that I washed the curry down with some Buna no Mori (beech forest) beer, made with wild yeast originally collected in the forest. This 5-percent beer was slightly darker than a typical mass-produced Japanese lager, and had a flavor that was rich and strong. It went well with this curry. I think it would go well with almost anything.

If a namahage ever comes to your door, a bottle of this stuff might be enough to keep his knife away from your feet.

shimeji marked

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