Aji WOW: 15-spice 'black curry'
Aji WOW is my series of unusual Japanese food/drink reviews. 'Aji' (味) means 'flavour', and the name's also a pun on 'ajiwau' (味わう) - 'to enjoy the taste of'.
This time: 'Black' curry with 15 spices, available at Yoshinoya.
When the name of a dish stops me in my tracks, I have to try it. Yoshinoya's massive banner for '15-spice black curry' hooked me mid-stroll. And the standard version is 350 yen? Sold.
The dish is ever so slightly more than a limited edition. 23 Yoshinoya branches across Japan aren't serving it at all. None of those are in Osaka, so lucky me.
The curry base includes tomato paste, apple juice, and other fruit and veg. The 15 spices are apparently a secret - Yoshinoya's website doesn't give anything else away.
My choice was the beef curry. It cost a little more - a whopping 550 yen.
Other options: cheese, egg, kalbi, nattou, and no toppings whatsoever. Weirdly, the allergy list for the roux (and therefore every black curry) included pork and chicken. Cross-contamination? Ultimate Chicken Horse Pig Cow? I've got no idea.
It arrived looking more dark brown than black. I hope you can see this well enough in the photo below: look closer, and the curry roux seems to have gold glitter in it.
I've never seen oil shine gold like that. It's probably oil in the curry sauce, but that wasn't something I wanted to think about. So, of course, I had one-hit wonder 'Black & Gold' stuck in my head for the rest of the meal.
That sauce was nice and thick, and it smelled great. It coated the rice generously as well, which is always a plus. There was a downside: where's the beef? It was mostly gristle.
The meat quality at gyudon (beef bowl) places can really differ. At Yoshinoya, I wished I'd spent a bit more on the nicer kalbi cuts. The excuse for beef I got instead was stringy and chewy. And woe betide you if you ask for a knife and fork. Those may as well not exist.
At one point, I nearly pinged a sauce-heaped bit of cow fat onto a nearby salaryman's lovely white shirt. I don't think he noticed... He would've if I'd hit him, by the end of the meal my paper napkin was yellow.
As for the mix of 15 spices, good luck recognising any. There are too many to taste, but I guess that means they blend together really well.
Anywhere other than Japan, where mildness rules, I'd have avoided anything with 15 spices in it. I'm not great with spicy foods, and this curry was bang on the limit of what I'm comfortable eating. So you're unlikely to have trouble with the spice level.
Verdict: 7/10. Black and gold, black and gold, black and gold.