Thursday, November 15, 2007
Roger if you are reading I have found the perfect food for you. It is called niku. I know that you are a big fan of it and I know where to get some of the best of it in the world. Let me clear up a little bit of confusion, niku is the Japanese word for meat, and where we live, the city of Omihachiman, is famous all across Japan as having some of the best beef in the country. Omi-beef or Om-gyu, as it is called, is held in higher regard here than is the world famous Kobe Beef. Kobe Beef is the beef that is used in the ultra-expensive hamburger that I read about in the news a while back. The cows for omi-beef are hand fed big bottles of beer and given daily massages to keep the meat tender and juicy. Eating omi-beef truly is a mind-blowing experience.
On Sunday night we went out to eat with our neighbors. Our neighbor Justin organized all of the people in the building, and a few others, to have a night of Yaki-niku, or grilled meat. We met in the parking lot of our building around seven in the evening and walked about ten minutes to the restaurant. This particular restaurant is called Nishimura-ya and it is known for having some of the best and most expensive yaki-niku in town. We arrived at the restaurant after about a ten-minute walk through the cold and a few raindrops. We were guided up to a private dining room where we were able to sit on the tatami floor around a low table. In the middle of the table were two holes sunk into the table. The hole was topped with a grate that was just a little below the level of the table. Under the grill was a flame. The table is a grill where we would be grilling our own slices of meat and vegetables.
The servers came in a few moments later and took our drink orders. I of course had a beer, because what else could go so well with grilled meat other than beer? A few moments later the servers returned, not only with our drinks but also with large platters filled with small slices of beef and some vegetables. The veg selection was not the best, but we were not there to eat healthy. The vegetable platter was heaped high with large leaves of cabbage, onions, Japanese potatoes, and mushrooms. The meat tray was just as large and was filled with thin slices of bite sized raw beef just waiting to be placed onto the grill and seared and cooked to deliciousness.
The first meat that was put on to the grill was what I think must have been tongue. It was sliced thin. The slices of meat were placed onto the grill and cooked. We then removed them from the grill with our chopsticks, dipped them into the sauce and ate. Logan however did not get the meat off the grill, though he did try, Jenny or I took care of that duty for him. Other cuts of meat were also grilled to perfection.
The tongue meat was good but it was not the best that Nakamura-ya had to offer. Some of the cuts that came out next were beautiful and tasted as good as they looked. The meat was beautifully marbled with fat in a way that you can’t find in America. The meat is not low in fat, nor is it lean. The fat runs through the meat in little white streams that divide the reddish pink meat into tiny little islands of muscle. The meat, in the best spots, looks like a piece of marble waiting for an artist to sculpt a beautiful relief of a cow. I suppose this is why the fat that funs through the muscle in a slice of steak is called marbling. I made sure to place a couple of well-chosen slices on the grill for my own personal enjoyment. I did everything in my power to ensure that my carefully selected cuts were not poached by anyone else. The enjoyment was sublime. I timed everything perfectly. I peeled my meat off the hot grill and dipped it into my sauce. Then it went straight into my mouth. It was not at all necessary to chew the meat; it simply melted in my mouth. The fat had all turned into juice and flavor. I was left with the second most tender piece of meat I have ever eaten. The first being at a different, more expensive, restaurant here in Omihachiman that also serves Om-gyu called Tiffany. Tiffany served the best steak I have ever eaten in my life. It was also at Tiffany that I ate beef sushi for the first time. Yaki-niku is not steak though, and not all of the meat was as prime.
I will admit that some of the meat looked more like fat with a tiny but of meat running through it. There were even a few pieces that looked as if they were entirely made up of fat. I am not sure that I have ever eaten beef that actually looks more like bacon before it is cooked, but eat it we did. The fat usually melted away leaving tender and juicy meat to eat.
There was even a few times that the melted fat caught on fire resulting in little flare-ups on the grill. Once or twice the grease ignited as someone lifted the meat off the grill. This resulted with them holding a burning ball of meat in their chopsticks for a few moments. One of our friends, Katy, has just purchased a very fancy camera and she was trying to catch the little bursts of flame on film. We ate plenty of beef that night.
I am glad that we took the opportunity to go out with the people around us. Not only was the company good but the food was too. There will only be so many opportunities to eat food in this way. We have a limited time left here in Japan before we have to figure out what is next and move back to America. Even though the meal was expensive the experience was worth the price of the meal. We had a good time and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Om-gyu is an expensive luxury, even here in Omihachiman, and someday we will not be able to eat it. Now when we come home to our American lives we can say that we have eaten the best yaki-niku made from the best om-gyu in Japan. What awesome bragging rights we will have.