Sea Urchin …Cream Cheese? (Japan)

If you don’t know what uni (うに/海胆 sea innards/海栗 sea chestnut) is, I’ll fill you in on a dirty secret- it’s not the roe of sea urchin, per se. Rather, it’s what secretes the roe.

Not hungry anymore?

I used to think uni tasted like how a durian smells, but I’ve grown out of that association, too. What do you reckon?

No matter how one feels about uni, what I believe to be one of many cool aspects of Japan is the frequent presence of food fairs somewhere on the upper levels of department stores. Those top floors are usually reserved for limited time events, say, jewelry or art festivals, a display of local shamisen, or a collection of typical foods from a certain region/city of Japan.

During my last visit to Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu — mind you, this was a few years ago — I decided to take a chance by popping in various department stores, hoping that a food fest would be occurring. Sure enough, there was a showcase for specialties from relatively nearby Kumamoto prefecture.

Whereas there’s always a nuanced selection at these events – in this case, watermelon sugar and horse stood out – one item stood out a bit more than the rest:

fukuoka-kumamoto-food-fair-uni-sea-urchin-cream-cheeseUni cream cheese, produced in Amakusa city, well-known for its sea urchin harvest. Quite honest to the description – in Japanese, it says “Amakusa uni kaiseki (a quick bite of Amakusa uni before a having tea)” on the right, and “cream cheese” on the left.

In spite of my willingness to try nearly anything once, uni was not a like-at-first-bite for me, way back when. I’ve since jumped on the bandwagon, and in all fairness, I’d spread a bagel or baguette with this stuff any day.

Grilled Curry (焼きカレー) from Moji, Japan

Moji Grilled Curry/門司の焼きカレー

Given Name: 焼きカレー (background and recipe in Japanese)

Alias:  Yaki* Curry, Grilled Curry

Place(s) of Origin: Moji*, Kitakyushu, Japan

Place Consumed: Moji, Kitakyushu, Japan

Common Features: Rice, Japanese curry sauce, cream/cheese, eggs

Background: Years ago, for my second visit to the island of Kyushu, I decided to visit Kitakyushu. It is an industrial city that for lack of a better description, affords nearby views of the city of Shimonoseki on Honshu, Japan’s largest and most populous island.
Close to Moji train station is an area called “Retro Moji (レトロ門司),” a section with buildings from the late 1880s, when this district became a regionally strategic port.

Moji Port Train Station, Moji, Japan

Although one of my goal’s was to visit Shimonoseki, a city famous for fugu*, I had read that the Moji district of Kitakyushu had a little something of its own, baked Japanese curry.
For those of you familiar with standard issue Japanese curry, which employs something of a blue-collar demi-glace replete with pickled ginger and pearl onions, Moji’s yaki curry is nothing like it.

Verdict:
The grilled curry was a bit decadent, what with cream forming a moat around the pile of eggs, resting on top of potatoes and rice, all blending together to create a slightly sweet and salty baked Japanese curry.  The cheese melted right in, which emphasized how filling the yaki curry was.  Some local Moji restaurants even add their own flair with beef and pork options.

*Yaki = 焼き/焼, cook, bake, roast, grill
Moji= 門司, formerly a city, now a district in Kitakyushu;
fugu= 河豚, 鰒 or フグ, poisonous pufferfish/blowfish

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