This story actually starts in the city of Kyoto with my good friend MR Rob visiting Japan for his birthday. MR Rob has been to the land of the rising sunfish before and decided to grace me with his birthday presence for a few debaucherous days followed by a week or so of relaxation for himself.First on the agenda was the Nekokaigi cat café – yes a cat café … or … if you prefer – ‘a cafe full of cats’ .. it was more like a feline petting zoo with $2 beers than a café of sorts but sometimes you just have to take it as it comes.
Personally I am more of a dog guy that a cat lover – but as this was my friend Mr Robs birthday, the cat café was an eccentric necessity. A little bit of light Jazz and a cold Asahi lounging with some kitties can actually be quite relaxing. We were on a 30 minute ($10) time limit, so after two beers and some happy snaps, we needed to move on.The next stop was supposed to be dinner… but Mr Rob decided he needed another pre dinner drink and we found ourselves at a bar named the Rat and Boar for another beer, a single malt scotch, some Norwegian pipe tobacco and a $15 tin of sardines.
The dinner objective was drifting away, much like our pipe smoke – but we needed to go on.. it was our destiny .. we craved BBQ – we craved wagyu .. we craved the carving and the cooking of the Japanese cow.
We were off to a place called HIRO for Yaki Niku or Japanese BBQ, but the clock was ticking so it was time to get on our bikes and find the place.
The word Wagyu 和牛 actually means Japanese Cow. The Kanji Wa 和 – means ‘old Japan’ and gyu 牛 – well, it means cow.
In Japan the top three kinds of beef (naturally subjective) are Matsusaka Ushi, Kobe beef (which is NOT exported!) and Ohimi beef all of which are raised in the Kansai region. Ohimi and Matsusaka beef originally comes from Hyogo (Kobe) but are grown/ raised in Ohimi and Matsusaka.
Other breeds include – Iwate Japanese Shorthorn, Yonezawagyu, Hitachigyu, Kazusa Wagyu, Kyoto Beef, Miyazakigyu and Kumamoto Akaushi. More info http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/attractions/dining/wagyu/brand.html
Tonight as we were in Kyoto we were dining on none other than Kyoto beef. We went slightly overboard and ordered the two large Ossusume (recommendation) which was probably enough meat for four but hey – it was MR Robs birthday and we did have quite a bit of an appetite from all the cat cafeing.
We were sitting at the counter so we could chat with the chefs .. who were not cooking but preparing and plating. At a Yakiniku restaurant you cook the meat yourself. This style of cooking actually came from Korea and even today many Japanese refer to it as Korean style. After some Kim-Chi, a small salad and some nameul (all of which took a very secondary role) the two super plates of meat arrived.
There was toungue, cheek, Harami (from around the diaphragm) Misuji (shoulder) and sirloin but the cut that stole the show was a fat 4 inch cube of fillet that looked more like vanilla ice cream with traces of meaty strawberry through it rather than a piece of beef. We saved the beef cube for last.
The tongue was first … we seared it … and from that point we both decided it was the best piece of meat on the plate … maybe we had gone about this backwards – we were supposed to save the best until last…oh well.
Next was the cheek; seared again – it melted down on my tongue as if it were a fat man on a sun lounge. It was my new favourite cut.
The Harami was next … we had hit two home runs already how on earth could it be possible for this beef BBQ get better ??
However – it did, it just kept getting better. Seriously with every slice of the wagyu action I sank deeper and deeper into my wooden barstool – I felt like a meat eating hedgehog curled up in a ball of umami.
The drinks kept flowing .. we were drinking beer and sake, we were offered water but the reason for the beer was to take place of the water. We forged on through our BBQ, giving each piece the playtime and respect it deserved, each and every piece of beast better than the one before and then we got to it. The climax, the reason for life, the secret to the internet, the definition of love; the reason why unicorns only have one horn, we had arrived at the BEEF CUBE.
The chefs instructed us to cook it for 3 minutes on each side, but at this stage of the evening we could not start cooking until we had each posed with this hunk of marvelously marbled meat. Instagram photos ensued, we blame the 3 bottles of sake and the copious volume of beer, but secretly we both knew this had to be documented.
We were given a timer which really just ended up being used to see who could hold their breath for the longest, but needless to say – we grilled that three dimensional cube of cow perfectly. Taking it off the coals.. we handed it to the chef who let it rest for a few minutes before slicing it into segments of beefy love.
I cannot put into words how f&%’%ng awesome this was. I entered a new place in my soul. The umami turned my mouth into a saliva pit – and I was as close as I will ever be to getting into whichever heaven takes me.
Apart from an amazing shitake mushroom which was on the bar in a basket as a display which we requested to eat (again indescribable) the rest of the meal just dissipated like a fog. I faintly remember making the chefs drink sake with us and in return we received some complimentary (service) pieces of something… we were living the wagyu dream.
We rolled out onto the street followed by the staff, who all lined up to thank us with a bow for the evening. Much to their bemusement we unchained our rental bicycles and hit the road.
The rest of the night consisted of visiting a bar that didn’t have lemons, a trip back to the illustrious Rat and Boar (for more whisky) and Mr Rob falling off his bicycle when it wasn’t moving. Looseness always prevails.