On a recent trip to Takayama in Japan’s Gifu prefecture I discovered something. Now, that is not so surprising, given that even though I have lived in Japan for 4 years I am constantly being surprised and discovering new and exciting things, even around my local area. A country like Japan, being modest and conservative in nature has a lot to offer, but rarely promotes its regional foods and cultures as much as it should. It takes an adventurous ability or a lucky tip or two to be pointed in the right direction so that you may experience some of these cultural and gastronomical treasures, such as what I discovered… Hida gyu, or Hida beef for people unfamiliar with the Japanese language.
Now if you have anything to do with the beef industry, you with out a doubt have knowledge of Wagyu (Japanese beef). This style of Japanese beef has been touted as some of the worlds best! Wagyu is the name given to a breed of cows with a genetic predisposition to produce large quantities of oleaginous unsaturated fat and high grade marbling. Hida gyu is one of the top breeds of Japanese beef that is lesser known than other more famous breeds such as Kobe, Matsusaka and Omi. In my opinion it is a breed that is overlooked both in Japan and over seas.
Now before I get into the best places to taste this delicious beef. Let’s talk about the Origin of Hida gyu (Hida Beef).
The name Hida gyu is given to a specific black haired cow that has the been raised in the Prefecture of Gifu for a minimum of 14 months. I was lucky enough to have met one of these beautiful creatures when I visited Takayama in early March. The beef has to undergo strict grading by the Hida Beef Brand Promotion Conference as well as the Japan Meat Grading Association. The beef has to have a Yield grade score of grade A (above standard) or B (standard). Yield grade refers to the standard set to evaluate cutability or in other terms the proportion of meat obtained from a certain part of cattle body.
The other factor that makes Hida beef great is that it must have a texture grade of 5 (excellent), 4 (good) or 3 (average).
The most interesting thing I discovered about Hida beef is that it’s origins can be traced back to 1981 and just one bull. His name was ‘Yasufuku’. Supposedly Yasufuku’s genetic makeup was ideal for producing calves to be bread for high quality meat. Now this was one badass bull. It was said that he was able to produce around 39,000 offspring in his lifetime! I mean…. Ah… You know… Ah…. Whoa!
As Hida gyu is from the Gifu region, that is the best place to go and eat it. You can find it in most areas in Gifu. Takayama has probably the best range of Hida gyu eateries. From local yakiniku (Japanese barbecue) restaurants to small street stalls that serve it raw or skewered and grilled. Two places I recommend are Maruaki and Number 60.
Maruaki is a Japanese style Yakiniku restaurant located about 10 minutes walking from Takayama
train station. It is a locally recommended place to enjoy the best that Hida beef has to offer. There is also a butcher shop connected to the restaurant, so if you can’t get enough of the beef in the restaurant, you can pop next door and pick yourself up a few slices to take home and cook! I recommend getting the Hida gyu cooked over a Hoba (magnolia) leaf . The smokey flavor of the leaf is a great compliment to the salty and smooth texture of the Hida beef.
六拾番 (roku jyuu ban) which in English means “Number 60” is a small street stall in Takayama’s popular tourist area “Old town”. It serves Hida gyu In a very simplistic forms. Skewered and grilled, so you can savor the delicious taste of the meat without any other distractions. Alternatively you can buy Miso stewed Hida beef, which takes two of Takayama’s famous foods and
mixes them together into one delicious meal for a walk around the beautiful streets of Old town in Takayama.
Now if you can’t get out to Takayama anytime soon and after reading this you are just salivating so much that there is now a puddle accumulating around your feet, and you just happen to be in Tokyo, you can check out Bakuru ichidai in Ginza. Mind you it’s a bit more pricey than what you would pay in Takayama, but that is the usual case with most regional foods you can find in Tokyo.
I my self bought some of the Hida beef from Maruaki’s butcher shop
to take home and grill up! The other bonus of eating Hida gyu in Takayama is that you get to meet the people, that are directly connected to the production of the meat and there are know better people to be talking to when you want to know more about what you are eating, not to mention they are the friendliest bunch of down to earth people you are likely to meet.
For more information on Takayama and Hida beef, check out the Hida Takayama website in English.