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Tasting the Finest Wagyu in Japan with Natsuki

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In my 7 years of travelling Japan, I’ve been fortunate to visit 40 of the country’s 47 prefectures, travelling from freezing Hokkaido to the turquoise seas that lap the shores of Okinawa. These are the memories, moments and experiences that I frequently find myself going back to; the ones that put a smile on a face that is typically riddled with cynicism and despair. Hopefully they’ll give you some fresh ideas and inspire you to go off the beaten path and experience Japan your own way. Memories travelling Japan is an ongoing series.

Tasting the Finest Wagyu in Japan with Natsuki | Morioka, Iwate

A few years ago I won a competition called “Tohoku 365” whereby I received funding to travel around all of north Japan and document the local cuisine. At first it was a dream come true, but after driving around everyday for four weeks, eating out twice daily and hastily writing an article on every single dish that I ate (as part of the deal), it soon become an inescapable nightmare that I came to regret.

But during the initial two weeks, back when I still had a smile and a sense of adventure, I found myself in the laid back city of Morioka, in the shadow of the towering Mount Iwate (2,038m).

The original plan was to produce a video for each of Tohoku’s six prefectures, and by the time I’d reached Morioka I’d already covered one local dish called “Genghis Khan”, a juicy Lamb Mutton barbecue dish named after the ruthless Mongolian dictator himself. To this day, it’s still one of my favourite dishes in Japan; I feel like there’s a little bit of Genghis Khan in every dish.

To spice things up for my journey I invited Natsuki to join me in Morioka, where we schemed to film Iwate prefecture’s famous Wagyu, “Maesawa Beef”.

Now there are many ways to enjoy Wagyu beef; some say it’s best enjoyed in a Sukiyaki hot pot, where it’s boiled and served with rice and eggs and a sweetened soy sauce.

I say, that’s bollocks.
Anything less than a Teppanyaki grilled steak is a crime.

The reason being, you can truly savour the juicy, melt-in-your-mouth, rich buttery taste of the Wagyu when it’s served fresh off a Teppanyaki grill in a way that’s simply impossible when it’s drenched in various sauces. Simplicity is key.

At the time of filming, Natsuki and I hadn’t eaten a whole lot of Wagyu, given it’s typically served on special occasions, or amongst businessmen trying to impress clients in Tokyo. This is on account of the eye watering price tag of around 8,000 yen for a steak ($80). So to say we were both excited, would be an understatement. In the moments leading up to walking into the restaurant, it felt like we were heading off to see our favourite band (which in Natsuki’s case, would require Sid Vicious to be brought back from the dead).

The essence of Teppanyaki isn’t just in the Wagyu however, it’s in the theatrics.
Given the price of the Wagyu, it needs to be done right and at a Teppanyaki grill you’re given your very own personal chef, who prepares, cooks, seasons and serves your steak to absolute perfection right before your eyes.

For 30 minutes, Natsuki and I gazed on in agony, as the freshly sliced, marbled Wagyu delicately sizzled before us, drizzled in butter, sprinkled with salt and pepper and was eventually - after what felt like a lifetime - served before us.

I’ll never forget the sensation of placing a small slice of Maesawa beef on my tongue and feeling it melt away into a juicy, buttery explosion of flavours. To this day, it’s easily the best Wagyu I’ve ever had. Better than the cuts of Kobe, Kagoshima, Yonezawa, Ohmi, Matsusaka and Sendai beef, I’ve had in the years since.

Meanwhile Natsuki enjoyed it so much, he invented a whole new phrase to describe the sensation.

“JUSTICE DELICIOUS! WORLD OF NUMBER ONE!”

- He’d described the meal better than I ever could.

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