Japanese curry mixes (curry roux) are among the staples in Asian sections of large supermarkets. Like that one final ingredient in a magic potion, a block or two of these instant roux can transform any unsightly vegetable and meat broth into a beautiful, restaurant-grade, Japanese curry stew. It’s so easy to use (Drop two blocks in the pot. Mix well.); very few people bother making curries from scratch.
Chef Erica Bagang is one of those very few people who bother to make Japanese curries from scratch.
Having spent most of her childhood in Japan, Chef Erica grew up eating sweet and spicy curry in their house and in school cafeterias. When her family moved to the Philippines, not one of the local Japanese restaurants that serve curry satiated her craving. It’s a good thing that Chef Erica is a culinary school graduate and she can cook just about anything that pleases her. Japanese curry, her favorite, remained a staple viand in their household.
In a small get together at their house, Chef Erica cooked Japanese curry for her friends. “It’s the ulam for the day and I just cooked it like how I always do,” she recalled. “When my friends tasted it, they said, ‘wow, sarap nito ah?’” The meal incited the idea to open up a Japanese curry house. Her guests were impressed enough and they were willing to invest in her cooking. A year later, they opened Eri Curry in SM Megamall Atrium.
So what’s in Chef Erica’s Japanese curry that it was able to attract investors on its own? “Secret!” she retorted. After prodding her, she revealed is that there are fruits in the broth. Apples? I guessed quickly as it’s the most commonly added fruit in Japanese curry. But she did say fruits, so I wondered what else. Banana, maybe? The placemat in the restaurant also hinted of the rest of the recipe when it listed four spices: turmeric, coriander, cardamom, and cumin. “There are lots more, but those are my four favorites,” she teased. I figured I’d just find out myself as I taste the dishes that I ordered.
Since I wanted to taste different variations and spice levels of the curry, I ordered: Spinach with Bacon and Butter Curry (P265), Ebu Furai (Fried Shrimp) Curry (P350), and Katsu Omelette Curry (P300).
The meal started with my mildest request: Spinach with Bacon and Butter curry, in Just Right spice level. True enough, this was more sweet than spicy, the kind most tweens can tolerate.
Erica’s curry sauce is golden brown with a slight tinge of red. It’s of a much lighter shade compared to the curries I’ve done at home using S&B Golden Curry roux. Without artificial thickeners, Erica’s curry sauce is less viscous than the instant ones. A generous drizzling of melted mozzarella cheese decorates the curry.
A careful slurp will give a burst of contrasting flavors. It’s primarily sweet (apples and sugar). Spices, though not tongue burning, abound. I’m certain now that Erica created her own Garam Masala mix from turmeric, coriander, cardamom, and cumin. Pepper, nutmeg, cloves, fennel, and cinammon may have also been added in the mix.
Thanks to its flavorful sauce, the dish works even with just spinach, corn kernels, and minced bacon bits. Of course, butter and mozarella helped a lot.
The Ebi Furai also came in the same Just Right curry sauce. The pair of prawns that I got was a tad small; their flavors are drowned by the thick fried batter. Since they’re charging P350 for this dish, they better find the right supplier that can give them plumper prawns.
The Katsu Omelette Curry in redder spicy sauce came in last. Albeit not fork-tender (this one would require you to chew a bit longer), I enjoyed every bit of this dish. The kastu is perfectly complemented by the spicy curry sauce. And I thought the rice enclosed in an omelette was a nice touch.
To end my meal, I got Eri Curry’s Rainbow Kakigori (P190), which is essentially a tri-flavored snow cone (Strawberry, Blueberry, and Green Apple) with azuki beans and vanilla ice cream at the bottom. The kakigori was able to successfuly wipe off the spice medley on my tongue. This one is huge enough to be shared by two people.
Chef Erica and her partners recognize that it won’t be long ‘til someone brings in a franchise of the most popular curry houses in Japan. When that happens, Chef Erica’s investors, Eri Curry’s early patrons (Japanese and Filipinos), and just about everybody who find comfort in homemade dishes will see to it that this homegrown brand will stand its ground.