RUMORS ABOUND ABOUT THIS WORLD-
FAMOUSMEAT. ABOUT BEEF BEING AS
EXPENSIVE AS GOLD. HEARSAY HAS
IT THAT THE CATTLE ARE SERVED
BEER AND MASSAGED WHILE
LISTENING TO CLASSICAL MUSIC.
TO TASTE THE LEGENDARY MEAT AND SORT
OUT A FEW THINGS, WE MET KENJI MITA,
A 3RD-GENERATION TEPPANYAKI CHEF
AND KOBE BEEF RESTAURATEUR, AT
MIKAKU – HIS RESTAURANT IN KYOTO.
The Mikaku restaurant is in the heart of Kyoto, beside the Shirakawa river in the Gion Geisha district. Mikaku specializes In Kobe beef, and that’s exactly why we came here.
When it comes to the world’s greatest, meltin-your-mouth beef, the Japanese are dedicated to details. Meat from Japan’s Tajima-gyu breed is the only meat that’s legally labelled Kobe beef, and it’s rigorously controlled by the government.
Owner Kenji Mita welcomes us to the restaurant, and what strikes us is that the restaurant’s perfectly polished teppan (iron griddle) and Mita’s bald head both reflect perfection.
“Grandpa opened the restaurant in 1929,” said Mita. “He served traditional dishes until teppanyaki cuisine hit the scene in 1945.”
Mita’s grandfather and other restaurateurs quickly discovered that foreigners enjoyed watching the chefs’ skillful maneuvers by the teppan – and the food of course.
“When Japan started getting more tourists, some really pushed food preparation performances. We gradually backed off on the performance part of cooking, and focused on quality and great taste. Now, more than ever, flavor replaces theater.”
Like his father and grandfather, Mita takes pride in offering Kobe beef that he personally selects for his guests. He has developed close relationships with stakeholders, and visits the farms a few times a month to ensure the quality.
After watching Kenji’s skillful slicing of the beef, and preparation of the food, we sat down at the end of the long teppan, and watched him create what was to be an unforgettable lunch.
“My grandfather started
Mikaku. Then my dad ran it.
Now I’m running it – backed
by their experience and
expertise. Like grandpa’s great
idea to never use bulls – just
cows, whose meat is very
tender and lean.”
With well-rehearsed movements, he fried potato cakes, onions, mushrooms. and other veggies – before the emperor entered the scene. He removed the fat border and set it aside; later, he fried the fat and used it as topping (most of the beef’s taste is in the fat). After he grilled the meat to our specifications, he finished with his specialty – a dash of brandy. He elegantly sliced it and served it while our mouths were watering. Was it good? No. It was truly amazing. The entire experience was almost sacred. The respect for the ingredients, the way they’re handled, and served. And the taste, of course.
Finally we had to ask about the massaged, beer-slurping, Beethoven listeners. Kenji just laughed and confirmed what we were afraid of – reality is much more boring. All that cattle coddling is just a western rumor. But the beef! It keeps conversations going for hours on end. Try it.
KOBE BEEF. This high-quality, government-regulated meat comes from 100% pure bloodlines. Kobe beef is only 0.16% of all Japanese beef. The cattle must be born and raised in Hyougo Prefecture with proof of pedigree. Only cows and steers are used for Kobe beef.
Once slaughtered, inspectors grade the quality and assign a marbling index score from 1 – 12 (only 6 or higher qualifies as Kobe). Rather than fat marbling and thick borders, Kobe steaks are speckled with tiny, evenly distributed flecks of fat that contains high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, which melt at much lower temperatures than saturated fatty acids. Kobe beef is definitely a “must” for carnivores. At about ¥100 per gram, it will definitely put a dent in your wallet, but it’s worth it.