In my Dec. 17 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about Kobe beef 神戸ビーフ, focusing on the myths associated with this top-of-the-market Japanese meat. With this blog post, I’d like to help readers who wish to try it for themselves. But first a big caveat emptor: Kobe beef is scarce – really scarce. If you want to be sure you’re getting the real thing, you’ll need to put forth a little effort.
First, take a look at the chart below. I found it helpful in understanding the standards meat must meet to be Kobe beef, as well as how Kobe beef measures up against other brands of premium Japanese beef. Real Kobe beef must come from a purebred Tajima steer (born, raised and butchered in Hyogo Prefecture) and meet the highest standards for meat quality and marbling.
Fortunately, distribution of Kobe beef is now strictly controlled. Carcasses that make the grade are issued a ten-digit identification number 個体識別番号 (kotai shikibetsu bangō) that can be checked online. Retailers and restaurants are certified, and should be happy to show you the identification number for the meat you’re offered.
If you can read Japanese, the best source for certified sellers. whether butchers or restaurants, is this list kept by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association. Even in Tokyo, only a handful of restaurants are certified as serving authentic Kobe beef. They include Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511 in Akasaka; the Yamanami teppanyaki restaurant in the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku; Asakusa Imaihan in Asakusa, and the Heijouen yakiniku restaurant chain.
There are only a few certified sellers outside of Japan, with the highest number in Hong Kong. In the U.S., where products that falsely claim to be Kobe beef or “Kobe-style beef” abound, there’s only one restauranteur certified as serving genuine Kobe beef: the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas. Strangly, I couldn’t find Kobe beef on any of their menus posted online. Maybe it’s only the high rollers who get genuine Kobe beef.