Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kobe Beef: It's beef, but not as we know it

Kobe beef, Kobe, Japan
I like steak. I like steak a lot. And I've eaten a lot of it, some excellent, some not. So when our travelling took us to Japan, one of our must-go cities was Kobe. Yes, the temples of Kyoto are stunning; yes, Hiroshima is an amazing testament to both the inhumanity and humanity of man; and yes, the metropolis of Tokyo is fascinating. But Kobe has beef - not just any beef - the beef.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Kobe beef, starting with the name. Many people refer to it as Wagyu, but that just translates as beef, so doesn't actually mean anything in terms of quality. Then there's the whole beer drinking, massaged cows myth. It sounds good, but it's not true. The cattle are fed a specially selected mix of grasses and grains, but no beer. And while they are very carefully and lovingly reared, for much longer than your average cow, that doesn't quite extend to the luxury of massage.

Kobe beef, Kobe, Japan
And then there's the biggest lie of all - that you might actually have eaten it. As its fame has grown, 'Kobe beef' and 'wagyu' has popped up on menus anywhere anyone might have the money to pay for it. Sometimes it's burgers - like anyone is going to put beef that good or that expensive in a burger - and sometimes it's in a fancy restaurant with a authentically expensive looking price tag. But in all likelihood, it wasn't Kobe beef at all.
Until recently, there was a complete ban on export of the beef to anywhere other than Macau. And even now, exports are very low, and very pricey. There are a few lucky restaurants that have genuine Kobe beef to offer, but you probably wouldn't have to take your socks off to count them.

Kobe beef sashimi, Kobe, Japan
So if the beef won't come to me, then I just have to go to the beef. For it to be the real thing, it has to be Tajima-gyu, a specific breed of Japanese cattle, that has been born, raised and slaughtered in the Hyogo prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital. And here we were, in the city that shares it's name with supposedly the best beef in the world, planning to blow our budget to try it.

Our first Kobe meal was found courtesy of friends from London, who were over in Japan to see family, and met us here. Them speaking Japanese meant that they found a less touristy restaurant, where we had a less distinctive experience, but excellent steak none the less. But far from quenching our hunger for the steak, it just made us want to go back for more.

Kobe beef, Kobe, Japan
Kobe beef has to meet exacting standards of meat quality and marbling before it gets its unique tracking code, it's guarantee of authenticity. We didn't want to come this far and be given duff beef, so we did our research, and chose the well recommended, but expensive, Wakkoqo as our restaurant.

We opted to have the sashimi starter, then the tenderloin for me and the sirloin for my husband; all proper Kobe of course. We sat at a countertop grill, where our own chef prepared and cooked our beef, an art form all of its own. Any outside fat was trimmed off and set aside to cook separately, giving us tiny tasty morsels to add to our rice.

Kobe beef, Kobe, Japan
The steaks themselves were cut into small chunks, which our chef grilled in small batches, searing them on all sides so that they were a perfect temperature to let the beautifully marbled fat do its work. It was served straight off the grill, with just the simplest of accompaniments, salt, pepper, roasted garlic and Wakkoqo's own sauce.

Strangely, we felt a bit nervous about our first taste. Would it really be that good? Would we like it? Would it be worth the money? The answer was an emphatic yes, yes and yes.

Kobe is really not like normal beef. I've had excellent Argentine, Scottish and US beef, and the best is tender, with a full meaty flavour. Kobe tastes great, but it isn't such a strong flavour. The texture is what makes it special. It literally melts in your mouth, like little buttery explosions. It is ridiculously good, and like nothing I've ever had before. We loved it.

There is one downside though. Once you've tasted Kobe beef, you're going to want to have more!

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