Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kobe - The Art of Eating Your Own Wallet

30th October, 2006 - Well there's a perfect opportunity for a stopover in Kobe on the return leg from Himeji to Kyōto. Surprisingly, Kobe is the 6th largest city in Japan. I say surprisingly because my memory of the city is not that of a BIG city at all. Kobe, was one of the worst affected cities of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 that killed about 4,600 people in Kobe alone, and left about 300,000 homeless. None of that is apparent today in downtown Kobe.

Kobe was, in a little known fact, once the capital of Japan... OK for less than a year, but still the capital nonetheless. In a slightly bizarre historical side-note, the great warlord Taira no Kiyomori at the height of his power in Kyōto invested huge personal - and as it turned out clan expense -  in an ambitious building project to develop a harbour to the west of Kyōto (around present day Kobe). He eventually had the Imperial court moved there in 1180. A trifling hiccup in the 1200 year history of Kyōto as the capital of Japan. As it turned out, the Taira didn't last much longer (thanks to the competing efforts of the Minamoto clan) and Kobe never quite became the great centre of Japan it could have been.

For some strange reason our cameras remained more or less turned off during our 3-4 hours in Kobe. Maybe  because we were tired, maybe because for once we just wanted to enjoy the experience without having to think about recording it. Or maybe we had just filled our cards to the brim. Either way, it was late in the afternoon when we arrived, and the sun was starting to get low. We had a quick look around, and then started looking for dinner (the main reason for the stopover).

Today Kobe is synonymous with a number of things (the earthquake for one)... the other main thing is in the context of... well... cow. Specifically Kobe Beef (or Wagyu). Now Kobe Wagyu is only from the Tajima breed of cow, and is also (strangely enough) restricted to the geographic location around Kobe. That's why you can't really buy Kobe branded beef anywhere other than Kobe... or the near vicinity. Kobe wagyu is also particularly famous for the high degree of marbling (or unsaturated fat) that permeates the meat and gives it such a beautiful flavour and soft texture. This is (urban myth or not) supposedly a function of the massaging and beer diet given to the cows.  Sweet! Where do I sign up?... Moooooooooooo.

It's also well known for being a little on the, hmmm how to put it, freakin' expensive side! Perhaps on account of all the massaging and beer. Personally, I'd prefer if they bypassed the cow part, and the massage/beer came with the meal. However - I'm a beef-kinda-guy (who just loves my steaks juicy and on the rare side)... so when in Kobe....

Now I've mentioned this before - though it may have slipped given it's a long time since I was regularly posting - the bizarre side-effects of T-chan's pregnancy was the fact that she had lost her sense of taste. Almost completely. Hence the dilemma. To experience a feed of Kobe beef or not? We decided to hope for a miracle - that is, praying that the desperation to taste very yummy food would overide any hormonal imbalance leading to lack of taste. Finding a nice restaurant (which obviously also catered for foreign visitors... which is always a bit of worry) we ordered some Kobe Wagyu (shown above) and crossed our fingers. Please T-chan... taste....

I have to say the beef - which was about 4-5 times more expensive than what I would pay at home in Australia for a very nice piece of meat - was divine. It was scrumptuous. It was definitely a beautiful piece of beast. However, the miracle did not occur, and T-chan remained somewhat dejectedly chewing on melt-in-the-mouth nothing. Ah - one of the great modern tragedies!

I headed the post by saying it's learning the art of eating your own wallet... and I'm sure that to a large extent the beef industry in Kobe is fed by silly tourists (foreign and Japanese) that have to do the whole Kobe Beef thing. I bet that few of those tourists would be foolhardy (or desperate) enough to splurge, even if they couldn't taste however.

Food is at the heart of our lives - and sometimes dreams are more tangible than common-sense.

We'll be back. So be warned cows in Kobe... your time will come! Mark my words...

PS - It's Father's Day here in Australia (5th September, 2010)... my 3rd Father's Day... though you haven't been introduced to my son (L-kun) as yet. Spent the day with the family up at my parent's house - and then had a great evening home with T-chan and L-kun. Strangely enough, Mother's Day is the same in Japan as it is in Australia, but Father's Day is different. Go figure! ?8^D
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