On my recent trip to Kobe, Japan, one of my dream-dining experiences came true. Kobe beef is regarded as a delicacy for sure, but partaking of that prized meat in situ, as in dining on Kobe in Kobe was like my wildest dream come true. If you ask why this meat is so special , I will probably need to transport you back to a time , in the second century, where the Wagyu cattle that produce the highly prized meat were introduced into Japan as work animals, used in rice cultivation. If you are reading the term Wagyu for the first time, it actually is a broader term used to describe Kobe beef. Kobe beef refers to beef from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.
As beef became more prominent in society, farmers began hiring workers to massage the animal’s sore muscles, i.e. the backside! The mountainous topography of the islands of Japan meant that there could only be isolated breeding of these prized cattle. This sort of geographical isolation coupled with the distinctive feeding techniques of the cattle, led to a couple of distinguishing features that make the meat both superior in marbling and in the ratios of unsaturated versus saturated fats. Kobe beef is a universal delicacy – if you are not a vegetarian .. rejoice! God (or the Japanese rather) gave you Kobe! Of course, as with everything fine, there comes a price. Be prepared to fork out up to USD100 for a 100gm of the top quality Kobe, sometimes more.
According to my Japanese colleagues, the cattle are fed a beer a day, and they are massaged with sake daily and brushed for setting fur, and fed on expensive grain fodder.The beer is meant to stimulate the appetite of the cattle especially in summer, where the appetite is naturally depressed, whilst the brushing of the fur is suppose to to soften the hair-coat and skin, that are related to meat quality. Kobe beef is renowned for its flavour, tenderness, and fatty well-marbled texture. Kobe beef can be prepared as steak, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, sashimi, teppanyaki and more. Of these different dining experiences I had the pleasure of partaking in two. The Sukiyaki and the Teppanyaki. The meat is softer and more succulent than anything I have ever tried before. The fat marbling is so fine that the meat literally disintegrates in your mouth. The Kobe Beef to the Japanese is not dissimilar to what Foie Gras is to the French. Exquisite! Highly recommend and if you ever see this item on the menu, please order it.
On my first day in Kobe, I was taken to a famous Sukiyaki Restaurant by my colleagues. The Sukiyaki style of cooking is actually cooking in the ‘nabemono’ – i.e. the Japanese Hot Pot. It consists of meat (thinly sliced beef and in this case, the Kobe Beef), or a vegetarian version made only with firm tofu, slowly cooked or simmered at the table, alongside vegetables and other ingredients, in a shallow iron pot in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Before being eaten, the ingredients are usually dipped in a small bowl of raw, beaten eggs. (photos below)
Once the beef is medium rare or medium, depending on how you like it, lift it out of the sukiyaki pot, and give it a swirl in the raw egg before you eat it. This adds flavour and a smooth texture to the Kobe Sukiyaki. Exquisite!
Teppanyaki however is a cooking style that employs an iron griddle to cook food. The word teppanyaki is derived from teppan which means iron plate, and yaki which means grilled, broiled or pan-fried. In Japan, teppanyaki refers to dishes cooked using an iron plate, including steak, shrimp, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and monjayaki. Below is a photo in a different restaurant for the Sukiyaki one, I had the privilege of dining at, on the last day before my depature, back to Kuala Lumpur. (photo below)
Note: Kobe is the sixth-largest city in Japan and is the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture on the southern side of the main island of Honshū, approximately 500 km west of Tokyo.
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