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Want to try the best beef in Japan? You’ve probably heard of Wagyu beef. And Kobe beef. But have you heard of Hida beef? And have you tasted it? We headed to the smaller town of Takayama, a couple hundred kilometres west of Tokyo to do just that.
Takayama is a pretty little town nestled in the mountains, with a river running through it. Picturesque, one might say. aBut as well as being pretty, Takayama is known for its beef – Hida beef to be specific, one of the class of cattle bred through the district.
So what is Hida beef?
Hida beef is actually a variety of wagyu beef. Hida beef cattle are a breed of Japanese black cattle that have been raised in Gigu Prefecture (where Takayama is located) for at least 14 months. What sets Hida beef apart from other beef is its muscle and marbling. Some say that this comes from the fresh, clean air and pristine waters of the Gifu region. Whatever the reason, it results in beautifully tender meat.
We’d heard about a restaurant that sounded like fun. Yamatake-Shoten is a butcher shop with a difference. Upstairs is a restaurant where they serve the famous Hida beef, customers cooking it themselves over a small coal-fired grill.
So off we went, not really knowing what to expect. Beef is beef, right?
How to eat Hida beef
In many restaurants in Takayama, you don’t eat Hida beef as a full steak fillet (unlike in restaurants in Argentina or in other countries famous for their meat). Instead, you’ll most likely end up cooking it yourself.
After going upstairs, we rifled through a fridge full of beef cuts in plastic wrap (set up much like a freezer in a supermarket – nothing fancy at all) then chose the piece that we wanted. We could take as many vegetables as we liked from the fridge, so we piled up on carrots, bean sprouts, eggplant, pumpkin and peppers and set it all down at our private area.
As we seated ourselves on the floor, a waitress took our drink orders and filled the small grill on the table with hot red coals. She poured sauces into small bowls and mixed wasabi into soy sauce. The meat we’d chosen was brought over to us, cut up in to bite-sized pieces.
My partner was in charge of cooking the meat, which we’d explicitly been told “two minutes on one side, then two minutes on the other side. No more.” We were eating late, so by this stage we were absolutely starving. We munched on the vegetables as we waited for the beef to cook. Then we took a piece each with our chopsticks and, as you do with food, we put it in our mouths.
I know this is cliché, but the meat really did melt in our mouths. We were eating it with chopsticks and there was no need to tear the meat apart with our teeth, it literally dissolved in our mouths as we bit in. The chargrilled flavour combined with the various sauces was amazing: a true taste sensation. It’s hard to adequately describe – and something you need to experience for yourself.
An hour and a half later, $130 poorer (yes, it’s that expensive!), and barely able to move, we left very satisfied. If you’re ever in Takayama – or anywhere else in the Hida district – I highly recommend you forget the cost and try Hida beef.
Where to try Hida beef in Takayama
Try Yamatake-Shoten or one of the other highly recommended restaurants serving Hida beef in Takayama.
Open daily 11.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. then 5.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m.
Closed Wednesday and the first and third Thursday of each month
Maruaki Hida Takayama
Open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m
Tuesday to Thursday open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. then 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Other things to do in Takayama
- Wander around Takayama’s Old Town, where you will walk past wooden latticed buildings that are 200 to 300 years old!
- Visit the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine, the oldest shrine in Takayama
- Take a day trip to Shirakawa-Go, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to see its famous traditional houses
- Try sake at the Doburoku festival – and meet some friendly Japanese!
How to get to Takayama
Japan’s rail system is fast, clean and comfortable, and by far the best way to get around the country.
Takayama is connected to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and other major cities by the shinkansen (bullet train) network. Take the train to Nagoya and connect via the JR Takayama line. The train ride is around two hours from Nagoya to Takayama.
Purchase a Japan Rail Pass which gives you access to a huge network of trains. You can purchase 7-day, 14-day or 21-day passes, depending on how long you’ll be in Japan.
Buses also service Takayama. Nōhi Bus travels between Takayama and Shinjuku Station (in Tokyo), Matsumoto and Kanazawa.
Have you ever eaten Hida beef in Japan? What did you think? Is it the best beef in Japan?
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The creator, writer and photographer behind Untold Morsels, Katy has been travelling and tasting the world since she was a teenager.
Now the proud mum of twins, she hopes they grow up to share her passions of great food, wine and travel. Favourite destination: Italy