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Japanese Wagyu Beef: The Forbidden Meat

By Rika Hoffman
June 20, 2019
Updated: March 31, 2021
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Continuing our food adventure video series with Sonny from the Best Ever Food Review Show, this time we're exploring the wonderful world of Japanese wagyu beef! Wagyu, literally translating to "Japanese beef" is one of the prize culinary possessions of Japan. Recognizable by its beautiful marbling of crimson and white, the texture of wagyu beef is finer than other types of beef, with a rich fattiness that literally melts in the mouth.

Japanese Wagyu Beef: The Forbidden Meat

You might wonder, what exactly is so special about wagyu beef? For the answer, we need to go back 2,000 years, when cattle first started being used for labor, the role of natural selection increasing the cattle's physical capabilities over the years. The cattle that we now know as wagyu cattle are descended from those draught cattle, which were bred for strength, high endurance, and unflagging energy. Physically, these characteristics manifested in wagyu beef as that web-like marbling of fat.

However, meat wasn't always a part of the Japanese diet. In fact, before the Meiji Restoration, Japan’s Buddhist leaders banned the eating of meat, particularly cattle. Then, when the Meiji Restoration began a period of modernization and Westernization, the ban was lifted and wagyu made its first tentative steps into the world of Japanese cuisine. Wagyu cattle which was shipped from Kobe to the port city of Yokohama, just outside of Tokyo, gained immense popularity with foreigners. This beef became known as, what else, Kobe beef! So, while wagyu beef is bred and raised in Japan, the inclusion of it in Japanese cuisine is actually a symbol of Western influence upon Japanese customs, marking a major turning point in Japanese history. 

Of course, nobody cooks meat like the Japanese. And sometimes, as you'll see in the video, the meat isn't even cooked (wagyu sashimi, anyone?). In addition to wagyu sashimi, Sonny and his friend Shizuka, try three other styles of wagyu beef, like yakiniku-style grilled beef with a slightly smoky flavor and tender, buttery texture. Sukiyaki is next, a style of hotpot in which meat, veggies, and tofu are cooked right at the table in a large pot, then dipped into raw egg before eating, lending a creaminess to the thinly-sliced meats. Lastly, Sonny and Shizuka have front-row seats as the chef cooks up a multi-course meal for just the two of them. However, the chef is not the entertainment; the real star of the show is the Kitasasuma wagyu beef from Kagoshima, which is served rare with freshly-grated wasabi for a spicy kick that cuts through the fattiness of the beef.

Watch as Shizuka tastes the most kawaii foods in Harajuku or dives into the Japanese street food scene in Ameya Yokocho!

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Rika Hoffman
Rika is a sourdough enthusiast, amateur film photographer, and pun-lover, born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. A carb-based lifeform, she is always on the lookout for tasty bakeries in Tokyo.
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