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(10,093 posts)
Sun Sep 17, 2023, 01:45 PM Sep 2023

This City Should Be Famous for More Than Just Meat

Andrew Kirell

If you’ve ever ordered Kobe beef at a restaurant in the U.S., you’ve almost certainly been had.

The scam that is the American “Wagyu” and “Kobe beef” industry is well-documented. Suffice to say, odds are you’re eating a pretty standard piece of U.S. beef, a hybrid of domestically raised Wagyu cattle and the increasingly Frankenstein’s monster-like approximation of Angus. There are no rules about what restaurants can claim on their menus.

In actuality, the cut of beef prized for its superior levels of fat marbling is incredibly rare. Only Wagyu cattle from the very specific Tajima bloodline—bred and raised in the Hyōgo prefecture, with Kobe as its capital—can be certified as Kobe. That’s roughly 3,000 cattle per year.

The rarity, delicacy, and rich history of the Tajima cattle makes it a point of pride for Kobe, Japan’s seventh-largest city and neighbor to fellow Kansai region stars Kyoto and Osaka. I visited Kobe earlier this year on my way back from the oft-overlooked Shikoku region (which I wrote about for our It’s Still a Big World series) and found it to be as deliciously unique as its namesake beef.

And, yes, I had a steak. More on that later.

Kobe is thoroughly cosmopolitan, with a stylishness and worldliness that comes from being one of the first port cities to open to outsiders in the 1850s, after the shogunate ended its centuries-long policy of isolationism. That status continued until the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake, a 6.9 magnitude monster that killed more than 6,000 people and decimated both downtown Kobe and its lucrative shipping operation. Since then, Kobe’s status as a major international port has waned but the city’s people take unusually great pride in their city—for its resilience, its liberal spirit, and its accolades as an internationally recognized “city of design.”


My Israeli friend Yitzhak grew up in Kobe after his family was displace from Shanghai when he was 6, and my father was there after WWII. Both spoke glowingly of the city. I wish......
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