The less gastronomically audacious would tend to shy away from curry either A) because of too much chili or B) because of olfactory reasons. But as the waitress at Hongkong’s Japanese Curry Shop BEE tells me, one can eat their curry every single day and still won’t smell even remotely like it.

Sounds like a good enough reason to try out something rather unusual and maybe bring a date along without too much aromatic considerations. After well-satisfied with the beef curry I ordered, I decided to ask the restaurant’s manager directly for an explanation. Surprisingly, she turned out to be someone I can relate to very well.

Levi Criste started Japanese Curry Shop BEE in 1995 and has been running it ever since. The restaurant now has three branches; staffed with Filipino waitresses and all located a few blocks from each other within Causeway Bay, which is on the upper east side of Hong Kong Island.

Unlike Indian curry, which carries very strong aroma, Levi tells me Japanese curry is not that spicy. Also, unlike the Indian or Malaysian kind, the Japanese do not use coconut milk. While she won’t tell me exactly the secret ingredients, Levi said they make their curry from chili, vegetables that they grind and apples. Yes, she said apple but I decided otherwise on asking why because at that point in our conversation, I was more interested about appearance.

“Our curry is brownish in color because it is continuously cooked over slow fire,” she explains. That makes Japanese curry, sauce-wise, a lot like say our own caldereta and as Levi adds with a smile, “Mas matagal, mas sumasarap. (The longer it is cooked, the better-tasting it becomes).” Of course, adobo stocked in glass jars or garapon, ideally “aged” in the ref for days, immediately comes to mind.

The curry fired up my taste buds alright but the kick was gradual and subtle, semi-sweet even, not hot enough to make me whistle and wipe trickles of perspiration off my forehead. The beef in my curry was soft and tender my teeth didn’t even need to chew on it with effort. My combo meal also included a bowl of piping hot Japanese ramen with tempura, which, interestingly, is made of breaded tiny shrimps, the kind used to make okoy.

My curry was also served with a siding of Japanese red pickles and the waitress obligingly gave me some more, much to my delight. I told Levi the pickles provided a balance to the spiciness of the curry. She praised me for noticing because, apparently, the pickles served its purpose in that mini-curry ecosystem in my plate.

Prior to setting up the business, Levi took up cooking lessons in Japan and her restaurant is now acknowledged to be the first one in Hong Kong to serve Japanese curry, a fact pointed out by the magazine article passers-by can readily see and read to whet up their excitement and corresponding appetites.

Of course, being a Japanese restaurant, the menu also contains staples like ramen, sushi, grilled entrees and donburi or rice toppings. Aside from beef, there is also chicken, seafood and even hamburger curry. Pork cutlet, says Levi, is the best seller. “People in Hong Kong want variety in their food,” she adds.

As for the curry, Levi, who speaks fluent Cantonese having found her busy taking delivery orders on the phone before our chitchat began, says patrons actually notice the difference. Perhaps not just the taste, but the long-term olfactory benefits as well.

Japanese Curry Shop BEE II is located at the Pak Sha Road in Causeway Bay, H.K. Levi says she plans to open a branch in Manila soon.

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