Hokkaido Bear Curry
Category : Food
Always keen to try something new and different, I saw this advertised in a magazine and tracked it down to a store in the Japanese ski resort of Hirafu. Bears are fairly common up there in the mountains, and signs on the road warn you to be careful, but I have never actually seen one in the wild. (Just as well, as the Hokkaido bears I saw in captivity were terrifyingly large with very nasty claws. They are closely related to the American grizzly, and when full-grown can stand over 2m tall, weigh around 300kg and run as fast as 50kph. In short, they are very dangerous, and have been responsible for over 80 attacks and more than 30 deaths in the last 50 years.)
Bear hunting is legal in Japan, with up to 2,000 special permits being issued every year. Just a small percentage of the meat can be sold for human consumption, however, so this local speciality is only available in small quantities at a price. I paid 1,000 yen for my tin, which seemed like reasonable value for an item which is a bit of a rarity.
The small tin in the cardboard box was simply bear meat, and I have to confess that it looked and smelled so bad I could not bring myself to try it. Think pet food, but worse – chunks of meat heavily mixed with reddish jelly and thick yellow fat – although I would not have wanted to give this to any pet of mine.
The big tin contained bear curry, so actually only small amounts of bear meat with carrots and onions in a thick curry-flavoured gravy. Japanese curry is completely unlike any Indian-style curry you may be imagining. If you think of the sweetish, sticky gloop offered up as ‘curry sauce’ in English fish and chip shops, you will be approaching the sort of economical snack that is commonly poured over a plate of rice in Japan. It is not one of my favourite things, so not surprisingly I did not truly enjoy this dinner except for the novelty value. The meat was dense and fibrous, the sauce felt slightly powdery and made the roof of my mouth feel rough. There was nothing actually wrong with it, but I doubt I will be trying it again.