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Where’s the Beef?

Mingling with the natives
Mingling with the natives

Public events are good opportunities to experience Japanese culture,  mix with locals and people-watch. We discovered a music festival being held in Kobe, Japan. Is that the same Kobe that’s famous for their beef?  Yes indeed, it is!!

Kobe is a separate city within the greater Osaka megalopolis. The $6, one hour subway ride is a nice Sunday outing. The subway and train system in Japan is so clean and organized and makes it easy to find your way anywhere.

IMG_0082We arrived a little after noon and decided to find a restaurant serving “Kobe beef”.1 We asked people on the street and as luck would have it, we met a woman speaking perfect English. With typical Japanese hospitality, she walked us to the front door of a nearby restaurant known for its Kobe beef.

There are several kinds of Japanese beef that are on the same level as Kobe. The rest of the world knows the name “Kobe” partly because the city had a shipping port that brought outsiders into the city, and partly because in the 80s, the cattlemen formed a marketing organization to promote the brand.

The cattle are a specific line that was interbred with European strains in the 1800s and have been isolated in certain areas of Japan. This breed is known as “wagyu” or “tajima-gyu” in Japanese. Although originally working beasts for rice farmers, over the centuries, they’ve developed extraordinary taste and marbling of fat that gives them quite a unique flavor.

IMG_0081After struggling with the Japanese menu and wait staff that didn’t speak any English, we ordered a lunch “set” and a couple extra plates of meat.2 In these hibachi-style restaurants, you cook the beef yourself on the built-in grill at your table.

There are rumors that the Kobe cows drink beer, listen to classical music and get daily massages. I don’t know about all that. What I do know is this:

There is no meat in the Western hemisphere that comes even close to this (and I’m including the Argentine beef which I’ve tasted in Brazil.)IMG_0088

Kobe beef is like eating steak ice cream. The meat melts in your mouth and has a feel that can only be compared to cream or butter. Seriously, it actually melts in your mouth. The flavor is exceptional, almost sweet; and it lingers on your tongue like really good chocolate.

The music festival? Oh yeah. There were a few awesome jazz and jam bands. We listened to a hard rock band playing a Japanese rendition of Led Zeppelin that struck us both funny. Why it was funny I don’t know, but probably because the song is so familiar to us in English.

We also heard an amazing set by a young jazz group called STAS. I’m always fascinated when I hear young musicians playing post-bop, free jazz. They’re not old enough to heard the original artists perform in person. Everything in music and fashion comes around again, doesn’t it?


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