Editor/co-written by: Greg Taniguchi
Often I hear or see people talk about “Kobe beef,” and I think there are several big misconceptions that most people misinterpret about Japanese/Kobe beef.
In Japan, the premium beef comes from wagyu (wa=Japanese gyu=cows) cows which are raised in different parts of Japan. There are a few different breeds of wagyu cows, but the two main ones are Kuroge wagyu (black cow) and Akaushi (red/brown cow). Japanese wagyu beef from the Kobe called Tajima-gyu from the Hyogo prefecture is only one type of multiple kinds (over 250+) of wagyu beef found all over Japan. Typically meat from any wagyu cow is characterized by the highly marbled (shimofuri) nature which is high in healthy fats. I have found that some of the wagyu cow breeds also produce delicious leaner beef (akami) that has a soft texture and less greasy.
When I spend time in Japan, I’ve enjoyed going to many different cities or areas and trying the different kinds of wagyu beef because I enjoy eating beef. The taste of the different types of wagyu beef can vary and change making some of them unique to how or what region they were raised in. Wagyu beef can also be enjoyed in many ways such as yakiniku (grill it yourself), steaks, teppan, shabu-shabu, or even as croquettes/katsu-sando (sandwiches).
Kuroge Wagyu: The Pinnacle of Japanese Beef
“From top-notch farms to artisanal kitchens and into the waiting mouths of hungry patrons, Japan’s elite offering—premium kuroge wagyu Japanese beef—is fast taking its well-deserved place among Western high-end beef standards such as filet mignon and veal. While internationally recognized Kobe beef is one of the most highly regarded, flavorful and least easy to obtain outside of Japan, it is by no means the only kind Japan has to offer. Read on to discover the world of kuroge wagyu beef, and learn why these succulent cuts should be at the top of your list when deciding where to dine in Japan.” – SavorJapan.com
Some of my favorite types of wagyu beef have been listed in the order from my favorites on down.
1. Shiraoi wagyu from Hokkaido (Kuroge)
This wagyu beef is rated very high and was served at the national 38th G8 summit. One of the farms which raises this cow is the Uemura farm in the town of Shiraoi. They raise their own Shiraoi wagyu cows, prepare, and serve their own beef at the farm restaurant. What I specifically liked about this specific cut of beef is that it was very light and easy to eat compared to other cuts of very fatty wagyu that can be very greasy. It had a balanced flavor which paired nicely with just salt, garlic, and pepper.
Additional images from Shiraoi wagyu from Hokkaido:
2. Himi wagyu from Toyama (Kuroge)
I was able to try this particular type of wagyu beef at the Himi gyu-ya. The shop is about a 20-minute walk from the Himi train station in the western part of Japan in Toyama. While this wagyu beef was more on the side of akami (leaner with more texture), the taste had a lot of depth and heartiness to it. I specifically enjoyed eating this beef with no additional seasoning or sauce than what was served with it. The Himi gyu-ya butcher shop has a yakiniku restaurant and also offers this beef as a takeaway item to prepare at home, and even sells a menchi katsu (fried minced beef cutlet) using their beef.
Additional images from Himi wagyu from Toyama:
3. Shinshu wagyu from Nagano (Kuroge)
Shinshu-gyu comes from the city of Matsumoto in the Nagano prefecture. The wagyu cows in Matsumoto are famous for eating apples as part of their primary diet. This diet gives the local wagyu in Nagano a moderate to higher fat content and a sweeter aftertaste. I find that this beef is more enjoyable with some of the local marinades that the yakiniku prepare the beef with.
Additional images of Shinshu wagyu from Nagano:
4. Noto wagyu from Kanazawa (Kuroge)
Noto-gyu is locally famous for having very beautiful marbling (Shimofuri), bright appearance and soft texture. I was able to try the Noto beef with pairings such as salt and pepper, garlic, wasabi and lemon juice. The Wasabi and lemon juice seemed to pair well and accentuate the taste of the fattier beef.
Additional images from Noto wagyu in Kanazawa:
5. Tajima wagyu from Hyogo (Kuroge)
Kobe beef initially came from the Tajima cow raised in the Hyogo prefecture which Kobe is the capital city of. I feel like the Tajima-gyu is famous because it does a lot of things very well having good marbling, soft texture, and an overall well-balanced taste. Though in my mind this wagyu beef merely is in line with all the other good Japanese beef with being “special” in any way. From my experience, Tajima-gyu is still paired well with simple salt & pepper or wasabi. If the cut of beef is very fatty and marbled, some lemon juice can help round out the flavor and make it more palatable to eat versus being too greasy.
Additional images from Osaka Tajima Beef Restaurant:
Additional images from Niko no Tajima Restaurant:
Overall I have had the opportunity to experience eating a few different types of wagyu beef (10+) which I have personally tried while visiting Japan. However, even this number is tiny in comparison to the overall number of wagyu breeds in Japan. Each city and prefecture has different stringent standards of raising wagyu cows, and the taste and texture of the beef can vary as such which is why you should keep an open mind when trying different cuts of wagyu beef. Also, try not to focus on what is expensive or brand names because there are Japanese wagyu producers that just have not gotten a lot of exposure outside of Japan although give it time, and they will eventually have the same brand recognition that Kobe beef does. Also, if you have never had wagyu before, and you do come across real Kobe beef (lot of “Kobe style/like,” not the same), it’s an excellent place to start because there is a reason why Kobe Bryant’s parents named him after “Kobe beef”….Kobe beef out *microphone drop*
Pass on the A1 steak sauce
Common condiments to wagyu are:
- Soy sauce (shoyu): Japanese soy sauces can vary greatly in taste, and there are a few that pair very nicely with beef.
- Salt and pepper (shio-kosho): yup, globally it’s a favorite around the world, even in Japan.
- Grated wasabi, radish (daikon), lemon, to garlic (ninniku): helps to balance the flavors without masking them.
If you’re in the U.S.
and you don’t want to fly to Japan, here are a you few places we suggest in el Lay.
Is owned and operated by a Japanese based international restaurant group that operates a couple of my favorite restaurants in LA, Manpuku and Izakaya Hachi. These two restaurants, are just a couple out of the ten brands that they operate primarily in the U.S. and Japan.
Address: West LA, Torrance, West Hollywood, and Costa Mesa.
Tip: be sure to call head to check on wait times because this place is always busy although Izakaya Hachi in Torrance is the busiest of them all. You can also hit up Takeshi at the new W. Hollywood location, tell him we said “what up foo.”
http://manpuku.co (and Izakaya Hachi)
The newcomer of yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurants in Los Angeles. They are a Japanese international restaurant group that specializes in wagyu beef with five locations in Tokyo, Kyoto, Singapore, Milan, and Beverly Hills.
Address: 9669 S Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Phone: (310) 275-2914
Tip: have deep pockets or a homie with deep pockets.
Seikoen is an “old school” establishment that has been in the Torrance area for quite some time, and as far as I know, they are independently owned and operated. This is also the spot that most Nihonjin’s (Japanese people) will typically suggest I go to for yakiniku.
Address: 1730 Sepulveda Blvd #14, Torrance, CA 90501 (Western Town Plaza)
Phone: (310) 534-5578
Tip: be sure to call head to check on wait times.
No website, they’re old school.
Tamaen is probably one of the few places in the U.S. that you can get several types of wagyu. They not only offer up Kobe beef, but also American wagyu by Snake River Farms (SRF) and USDA prime beef from the U.S. and Australia.
Address: 1935 Pacific Coast Hwy, Lomita, CA 90717
Phone: (310) 326-0829
Tip: be sure to call head to check on wait times because this is another very Japanese place that is tiny (don’t expect a lot for atmosphere either except for scent of beef in the air).
http://www.tamaenus.com/ (very nicely done website)
We’re regulars at Manpuku and Hachi although you need to check them all out.