Cycle 5 – Item 143
28 (Wed) May 2014
Good Award Kobe Beef Steak Course
at Biftek Kawamura
Mission to Japan: Expert Consultation on Intersectoral Action on Health + Personal Deviation (Day 1)
In Kobe. My first duty travel! Dispatched to the World Health Organization Centre for Health Development (aka “WHO Kobe Centre” aka “WKC”). Here to attend the Expert Consultation on Intersectoral Action on Health. For GMTD purposes, the trip is all about food. To maximize the opportunity, I’ll be staying in the country an extra couple days – a “personal deviation” in WHO parlance.
When I learned that I’d be traveling to Japan, the first thing that I did was go to MK, a Japanese colleague in the office, for restaurant recommendations. I asked her for a simple list of places to get certain items that I was hoping to try, and she produced a brochure with color photos and hyperlinks. She even made reservations for me at some of them and got a secretary at WKC to print out maps. Thanks, MK!
Biftek Kawamura is a Japanese steak restaurant chain. 6 locations in and around Kobe, 1 in Tokyo. All menu items involve beef, various cuts and grades and sets, mostly prepared in teppanyaki form.
With 10% tax, the food alone came out to about 28,000 JPY (around 280 USD) – the most expensive meal that I’ve ever had for myself, and probably the biggest ripoff. I should’ve ordered just a 120-gram steak + grilled vegetables set, which would’ve been “only” 15,000 JPY.
For my first night in Kobe, I had to start with the beef. I’d asked MK to recommend the best of the best: “cost is not an issue.” She came up with Biftek Kawamura, which she’d never tried but had heard good things about.
Wagyu is a Japanese breed of cow. “Japanese (wa)” + “beef (gyu).” Supposedly, they have a genetic predisposition to marbling (maybe). Indeed, more than anything, the meat is famous for its extreme marbling, more fat than muscle. Supposedly, they have more omega-6 fatty acids and a higher ratio of monounsaturated fats than standard beef (hard to believe). One of the most famous varieties of wagyu is from Kobe, which imposes strict standards for what may be labeled as such: the cows must be of the Tajima strain, born/raised/slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture, with minimum marbling requirements, etc. That stuff about beer and massage may be apocryphal.
Hoping to be utterly blown away by the experience, and wanting to leave no room for second-guessing – like “Maybe if I’d gotten the more expensive cut…” – I ordered the priciest thing on the menu: full course, “Good Award,” 160 grams.
First, everything other than the steak was a waste of time, certainly not worth the extra money.
Even worse, some of the items, particularly the foie gras and grilled vegetables, compounded the overwhelming heaviness of the meal; towards the end, I started feeling a bit queasy.
As for the meat itself, it was indeed melt-in-mouth tender, and I could see how somebody who’d never experienced anything similar might be impressed. However, it just reminded me exactly of Korean beef: same squishy texture, little beef flavor. I couldn’t finish the 160-gram portion (I should’ve ordered 120).
As a meal, I would argue that Korean beef in barbecue form is superior because it comes with kimchi and fresh vegetables to balance out the greasiness of the meat (I can eat 300 grams, at least).
Anyway, whatever. One less thing on the bucket list.
Still feeling somewhat icky from all that fat/oil/grease, I stepped into 7-11 for a Coke Zero to cleanse my system – I have quit Coke in my daily life, but I’ve carved out a traveling exception.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the food choices were predominantly fresh and healthful.
In terms of food, the day ended on a high note through the discovery of the convenience store. Pitch perfect toro maki and boiled edamame with a tall glass of Suntory whisky, thank you very much.
(See also BOOZE)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN JAPAN)