Fancy a feast? Un petit peu du foie gras, perchance? A slice or three of the finest Aberdeen Angus roast beef, if you will — with lashings of horseradish, sans doute. Or, drop a plastic pouch of curry into boiling water, wait for 3 minutes, pour it over rice and — voila! — you have a meal fit for an impoverished king.

"I don't need to cook if I have pouch curries, even when I hold a home party. What I do is just prepare the rice," said Makiko Hidari, a housewife living in Kawasaki.

For four years, she has held regular gatherings she calls retoruto kare o kiwameru kai ("group seeking the depth of pouch curries"). To date, Hidari and her friends have tasted more than 800 kinds of boil-in-the-bag curry. But this is no mere academic pursuit, because one of the group's members, who goes by the name of Mi-chan, said that she, her husband and two children regularly eat "pouch curries" at home whenever she is tired of cooking and other household chores.