One of the great pleasures of a trip to Japan is exploring the wide range of Japanese cuisine since this country offers a great variety of dishes and regional specialties. While typical Japanese dishes such as sushi and ramen are common these days, visitors are dying to try out not-so-common Japanese foods during their stay in Japan. It isn’t a surprise that many visitors have put Wagyu Beef on their list of Must-Eat Foods in Japan. However, many of them have little knowledge of what to expect from the Japanese beef other than knowing that it is the priciest beef in the world.
What is Wagyu Beef? Wagyu is a breed of cattle native and unique in their genetics to Japan. The Japanese word Wagyu (pronounced ‘wag-you’) literally means Japanese cow – as ‘wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means beef. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Japan was isolated from outside world to ensure the purity of its livestock for more than 200 years. When the country opened to world trade in the subsequent Meiji Era, Wagyu breeding accelerated and crossing began in many farms. And the modern Wagyu cattle are the result of crossing the native cattle in Japan with imported breeds. These cattle are vigilantly guarded by Japanese farmers and the production of Wagyu beef in Japan is highly regulated and progeny testing is mandatory. This is to ensure only the very best proven genetics are kept for breeding.
Wagyu beef is densely marbled, meaning that it has more fat than flesh. And it’s not just any fat, but the monounsaturated fats with high levels of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Many people only know that Wagyu beef has got unsaturated fats, which is often referred to as the ‘good fat’. But not many people know that fat is where the flavor of the meat resides. The Japanese describe the Wagyu beef as full of ‘umami’ goodness. The term ‘umami’ is used to describe a subtle sweetness and aroma of meaty taste, which is also the fifth basic taste on top of sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
Since Japanese Wagyu has more fat than flesh, it makes the juiciest, richest steak in the world. Most chefs in Wagyu beef specialty restaurant would recommend Wagyu steak to be cooked a little longer until the fat is melted throughout the meat. Due to its intense marbling, the wagyu steak beef is incredibly tender and it dissolves in the mouth like butter. However, steaks aren’t the only way to enjoy Wagyu beef in Japan. You can try it in the form of shabu shabu, sukiyaki, yakiniku, hamburger, or even sushi. For many locals and visitors, shabu shabu and sukiyaki are their favorite winter hot pot dishes that help to keep them warm in chilly winter. The hot pot dishes with thinly sliced Wagyu beef would render out more of the fat than grilling. On the other hand, if you would like to try Wagyu beef prepared in sushi form, beef tartar or ‘nigiri Wagyu sushi’ may be your best choice. However, nigiri Wagyu sushi is a rarity and it may not be easily found on the sushi restaurant’s menu.
With its surprisingly rich flavor and tenderness, the Japanese premium beef has seemed to charm the tongues of many people. As a matter of fact, the Wagyu beef is not only being shipped nationwide to meet the local demand, but it also gained its popularity among foreign visitors, who appreciate this fine meat for its combination of high fat and subtle flavor. It is also recommended to enjoy wagyu beef with hot sake, while the cold drink will harden the meat in the stomach. If you are visiting Japan, you will definitely want to try this expensive and most sought-after meat in the world!