Curry brings hope to disaster-hit town

Women in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, sample dishes of "Onagawa Curry".

ONAGAWA, Japan - Local residents from the tsunami-hit town of Onagawa have begun developing test dishes using a mixture of curry spices blended by an Indian volunteer worker.

Named "Onagawa Curry", residents expect the new dishes, featuring local produce such as seafood and mushrooms, to become a new local specialty.

Many local restaurants were forced to close in the wake of the tsunami, but some are planning to resume operations.

The project began after Mehta Bharat (right), 27, an Indian businessman from Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture, visited the town as a volunteer worker in April. Bharat imports spices for Anan Corp., an Indian food sales company operated by his father.

He blended more than 20 spices to make curry to feed displaced tsunami survivors. The curry, which was made mild enough for both children and the elderly to enjoy, is popular with locals.

To raise funds to support residents, Bharat also sold the curry mixture online. About 1,500 packs at 650 yen (S$11) each were sold in less than five months.

When Bharat heard from local businesspeople about the need for jobs, he devised a plan with other volunteers to open a curry mixture factory in the town using proceeds from product sales to provide job opportunities.

With backing from a local commerce and industry association, the factory will be set up in a makeshift shopping arcade that is being built in the school grounds of Onagawa High School in February. It is scheduled to open in February.

To help ensure the project is a big success, housewives in temporary housing facilities began making sample dishes in December using cod and squid, as well as locally grown agricultural products.

Fumiko Tokai, 58, who helped cook the dishes, said: "Our curry dishes are healthful and tasty. Using fresh cream deepens the flavor."

Takahiro Aoyama, 39, a member of the commerce and industry association, said: "Many people like curry dishes. They're easy for restaurants to serve."

Bharat said: "I'll donate the factory [to the town] after it's running smoothly. I'll be happy if people continue to like the curry for a long time, say, for 100 years."