• Kyodo

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Japan has taken the classic curry dish and turned it into specialty delicacies that include sea lion, bear, boar or venison.

Sea lion, bear and deer are among more than 800 different kinds of ingredients contained in curry offered as regional specialties, often sold as boil-in-the-bag souvenirs.

Shoppers might be surprised to see sea lion reheat-and-eat curry, but they will find that its dark brown meat tastes like beef jerky, thanks to spices that keep the smell very much subdued.

Sea lion curry is produced by a Hokkaido food processor that also turns out bear and deer variations.

The firm initially prepared sea lion curry to create a buzz with consumers. “We are surprised to see it become such a big hit,” an employee said.

But it does not plan to go into selling such curry in a big way because supplies of the ingredients are limited.

Hokkaido is not the only place big in regional curry.

The Tamba-Sasayama district in Hyogo Prefecture has made a big name out of its curry with locally grown black soybeans. The curry was initially sold at local souvenir shops but now is sold at supermarkets in the Kansai region.

There are also curries featuring such high-grade ingredients as king crab, fugu and shark fin. Others include turbo shellfish, cuttlefish ink and loquat, a small plumlike fruit.

Okitama Chikusan Kosha of Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture, makes beef curry using deluxe Yonezawa beef cut into big chunks.

“People love it because they can really taste the beef,” company manager Ryoichi Hosoya said. “We have regulars who order it repeatedly.”

Mass production, however, is not possible because of the limited supply of beef, which in turn increases its value and promotes the regional industry.

Daimaru Department Store in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi district held a fair last summer with about 200 different kinds of processed curry from across the nation. The store still sells 50 varieties thanks to the favorable response it received.

Prices mostly range from 300 yen to 500 yen a pack, though some fetch about 2,000 yen.

Takahisa Inoue, a producer at the Yokohama Curry Museum, predicts the curry boom will continue and more surprising dishes will emerge.

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