in kobe, do they just call it beef?
Has the Japanese Board of Tourism seen this site? If this keeps up, I should at least get a lifetime of comps at Toyoku Inn. A stack of Japan Rail Passes wouldn’t be bad either, as unlimited access to the fastest train network in the world was what afforded me the recent opportunity to, oh, hop on and off the shinkansen for a quick bite in Kobe, where, I was surprised and slightly disappointed to learn, they don’t just call it beef.
You’d think a port city in Western Japan, a city known for nothing more than its cattle, for meat so awesome it gave the world’s best active professional basketball player his name, would be positively dripping in steak houses and barbecues and filled with children roaming the streets eating beefsicles and drinking steak-flavored soda or something.
In reality, good Kobe beef is fairly hard to find even in Kobe, and on this particular afternoon, required a stumble across the town, a random sidetrip into a discount superstore (where I pulled a ticket out of a box and won a Japanese FM satellite system!), and finally an encounter with a random salaryman on a street corner, because everyone knows that salarymen get drunk and eat good stuff at high-powered business dinners and enkai office parties.
Here’s a tip. Look for the old, graying guy in the business suit, the one that’s perfectly at ease and carries himself like he owns the town. He’s smoking a cigarette, waiting for a cab perhaps, but definitely not behaving like a drunken ass or brown-nosing superiors. You don’t want middle management and you don’t want the underlings after all. If you’re lucky, you will have chanced upon a vice president or even a shachyo, the big boss, a higher up for a major electric power or heavy industries conglomerate. He might then give you his card and point you towards a referral-only steakhouse somewhere in the vicinity. “Show it to them if you have any problems,” he might say. And you, the wide-eyed, awestruck fresh-off-the-train aspiring foodie so simply thankful for the hint, will do exactly as he suggests because the company V.P. is the only lead you’ve got, your only crack at the big time in a small Western town.
Kobe is a port city where foreign influence has been felt since the Meiji Restoration, when a ban on eating beef was lifted. A local breed of wagyu cattle, raised under strict guidelines and ultra-high in fat marbling, are effectively the only cows from which authentic “Kobe beef” can be had. A handful of steakhouses, clustered in the center of town, serve this meat in both western and Japanese-style teppan, or “iron plate,” fashions. The establishment I was steered to (no pun intended, honest) had a prix-fixe course menu for about a hundred US dollars. Really, that’s all you need to know.
Ah yes, the pictures: