I’ve heard it before from other people who have already had their world rocked by the Kobe beef experience. They lament the fact that regular beef has been ruined for them forever and I’ve always wondered if eating one simple piece of meat can possibly have such a profound effect. Well, now I’ve been to Kobe, Japan, and I’ve tasted the coveted Kobe beef for myself.
So now I have an opinion of my own.
And I think it might be true.
Our Kobe beef experience may very well have rendered us unable to ever fully enjoy regular steak again. Yes, it’s true. In fact, we had our first “regular steak” experience just the other night, at a restaurant that claims to use a Japanese grading scale of their own that they say far exceeds typical American grades of beef. You can’t see me shaking my head, but I am. No. It wasn’t. Couldn’t possibly. Not even close. Sorry, American wannabes.
My mouth may never water again at the sight of a less marbled piece of beef. How can I get excited about beef that hasn’t consumed beer as part of its special diet and had sake spa baths to improve the natural sheen of its coat? Okay, those are merely rumors about Kobe cattle treatment, but those cows had to become tasty somehow!
How does Kobe beef get so good?
The answer is, it’s a secret! The only thing that is truly known about the production of Kobe beef in Japan is that it is Wagyu cattle born in Kobe and raised by strict standards set forth by the regulatory committee of the Japanese government. It’s like Champagne. There can be no substitute for the real thing. And thus far, no one has been able to reproduce the incredible flavor and marbling that makes Kobe beef the best in the world, despite attempt to create Kobe-style beef.
It was for this reason that we made it our mission to go to Kobe to try it when we were in Japan. Getting from Osaka to Kobe is only a short 25-minute train ride – totally worth it! There are dozens of restaurants serving Kobe beef for lunch and dinner, and while you’ll pay for the privilege, I can assure you, it is well worth it.
Eating Kobe beef in Kobe, Japan!
We chose a chain called Ishida that garners almost a full 5-star review on Trip Advisor. It is a relatively easy Kobe steak restaurant to find and delivered on all fronts: atmosphere, experience and – most importantly – deliciousness. A reservation is highly advised, especially if you’re not planning to arrive right at 11:30am for lunch or 5pm for dinner. At any other time, it will be nearly impossible to get a seat. We arrived at 11:40, because we lost our way, and we were given only until 12:45 because of another reservation.
In my opinion, the only feasible ordering option is the A5. A5 is the highest quality Kobe beef, and thus the most expensive, but hopefully you know that going in so there isn’t any sticker shock that makes you change your mind and order the A4 in a moment of panic. At Ishida, the A5 lunch set comes with 130 grams (4.5 ounces) of beef with appetizer, sides and dessert for $78. That’s pretty reasonable for the opportunity to try the best beef ever.
The food is all cooked on the teppenyaki grill in front of you, so it becomes a little like lunch and a show. What a bargain!
Watch it sizzle:
As we ate our appetizer and salad, the chef started to prepare the meat by removing all the fat from around our piece of meat. He used the trimmings to cook the vegetables, then to flavor the fried rice, which is itself a masterpiece and well worth the extra couple dollars.
We knew we were only getting 4.5 ounce of beef each, but after we ever so slowly savored the first five slices, we were worried we wouldn’t get any more. They probably know the human brain works that way, so they reserve a few more slices as a reward for when you start to feel like you might go crazy without just one more bite of that succulent beef. After you’ve eaten the vegetables, you’re rewarded with a few more slices of heaven.
On the plate with the beef are a pile of sea salt, rock salt, pepper and mustard to dip the beef in. A little goes a long way, but the right amount makes the flavor of the beef just explode in your mouth. Not only is it tremendously tender and rich, it’s absolutely bursting with flavor.
The fried rice was insanely good too. It had little bits of that rendered beef cooked into, like little morsels of beef bacon. So good!
Here is what I have learned from my Kobe beef experience:
- I may never be able to forget that marbled piece of heaven melting one savored bite at a time in my mouth.
- I may never be able to forgive regular steak for requiring me to wield a knife to cut it, when Kobe steak succumbed so readily to my fork.
- I certainly will never be able to pay $70 for a regular steak that doesn’t even have an A anywhere in its pathetic grading system, when I know I could pay just $8 more and see stars when I chew.
So, I’m afraid the answer is a definitive yes. Regular steak has been ruined forever. I will always remember how amazing it was eating Kobe beef.
For more foodie things to do in Osaka, see our post on Dotonbori Street – one of the best street food destinations in the world. And if you’re planning to spend some time in Tokyo, we have a 3-day foodie itinerary that will help you tackle the many food possibilities in Tokyo.
One more thing — if you are planning to visit more places in Japan (like a round trip from Osaka to Tokyo), I highly recommend checking out the Japan Railpass. If you’re done any research on traveling in Japan, you’ve already found out how expensive it can be. The railpass can only be purchased by tourists, and it will save you a tremendous amount of money over buying separate tickets, plus save you the hassle of buying the tickets each time.
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.