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in kobe, do they just call it beef?

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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:

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Comments

Funny, I was in Kobe just a couple of days before this post.  What beef I had there was good, but I don’t think it was Kobe beef.  Or if it was, it was lower quality stuff.  Maybe I was expecting too much, but the fact that I don’t think it cost as much as you mentioned is a bit of a red flag.

BTW, Kyushu Jangara (or Kyusyu Jangara, as they spell it on their t-shirts) is amazing.  Unfortunately, I was there too early to get kotteri (and never managed to make it back), and the person who ordered for me might have forgotten to mention katamen noodles (they weren’t as firm as I like (like SSG’s firm noodles)), but it was still fantastic.  The broth was thin, but still much more flavorful than SSG’s.  And the zenbuiri toppings?  Heaven in a bowl.

The only other place I got to try while in Japan was Kinryu in Osaka.  I thought it was mediocre.  The broth, though very white, was surprisingly thin, and tasted strongly of beansprouts and little else, despite there being relatively few beansprouts in the bowl.  The noodles were too soft, the chashu too hard and dry (and rather small), and there was nothing else to it aside from the garlic and stuff you can add yourself.  Perhaps the other location down the street (the one without the gigantic dragon sculpture overhead) makes it better?

Oh, and I tried takomaki from the white stand across the corner from Kinryu.  Not bad, but I’d like it more if the batter wasn’t so soft.

BTW, have you tried Tampopo in Gardena (not far from SSG)?  I thought their ramen wasn’t too bad.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/02 at 02:20 PM

yea kinryu is very chinese-influenced. it’s not for everyone, but it hits the spot when you’re just stumbling around drunk on the doutombori. i loaded my bowl with pepper; maybe it was cheating a little bit =P. but yeah, osaka isn’t really known for their ramen, so what you get there is usually kind of a mixed bag. there’s no definitive style for the area and it’s different from shop to shop. the general wisdom is that kansai chefs like to experiment and come up with there own thing, so it can be pretty hit or miss.

as for the tako yaki, yeah the soft batter is a bit unusual, but that’s actually kind of why the osaka style is famous! natives really like it, i guess.

i’m glad you liked jangara! alas, firm noodles, like at shin sen gumi, are actually specific to the hakata style of ramen, which is from fukuoka. it’s not all that common, even in tokyo. thus requesting katamen is often imperative.

i haven’t been to tampopo in years, but maybe a review is due soon =).

hope you liked japan!

Posted by rameniac on 05/02 at 03:06 PM

Oops, takoyaki.  Heh.

I don’t think you cheated; I dumped a big heaping spoonful of garlic into mine.  :D Certainly tasted better after that.

Japan was great!  Unfortunately, it wasn’t really my trip (my mom wanted company), so I got dragged all over the place via a tour, instead of being able to set out alone on foot and really explore one or two places thoroughly.  I probably would’ve stayed in Tokyo and eaten at Jangara every night if it had been possible.  :D And I kinda wish I had tried the fugu restaurant instead of Kinryu.  That gigantic blowfish thing rules, hehe.

Thanks for the info, and for the great website!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/02 at 06:11 PM

I came across your blog today,
I have to say that I really like it!
Keep up the good work,
And how much I wish I can have a bite of that marble meat!

Posted by Cindy on 08/21 at 11:50 AM

the general wisdom is that kansai chefs like to experiment and come up with there own thing, so it can be pretty hit or miss.

Posted by white water rafting on 01/13 at 06:59 AM

You went to Kobe ate the beef and didn’t take any pictures of it?!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/13 at 12:41 PM

Oops didnt see the bottom of the post smile

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/13 at 12:43 PM

Yeah. Kinryu isn’t really for everyone. But that’s a piece of my own. As for the takoyaki i have to agree as well.. it’s a tad too soft. JC.. The fugu’s nothing to shout about..feels abit rubbery.. i had both sashimi and nabe style, though i guess the experience is worthwhile. I would love to try some authentic Wagyu/Kobe Beef though.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/19 at 09:26 AM

kobe is the best beef and he is the best nba player

i honestly did not know anything about the history or culture you laid out here

thanks for the education, sounds like there is a lot of hisory here

Posted by andrew on 11/05 at 08:49 PM

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Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/03 at 07:08 AM

I would love the opportunity to try Kobe beef. I do not think it is even available in my area. Though I guess it is very expensive.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/08 at 03:49 PM

The big question is not what they call it, but what does it cost there?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/10 at 02:13 PM

True a good Kobe beef is fairly hard to find even in Kobe, and the taste is erfectly well.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/07 at 10:24 PM

I’m sure Kobe beef in Japan is NOTHING like the Kobe beef in America. One day, I shall have that luxury!
tv antenna

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/28 at 02:35 PM
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