You know about Kōbe beef. But here, in Takayama and the Japanese Alps, we’ve been gorging ourselves with Hida-gyu in all its marbled fatty goodness — just as delicious as Kōbe-gyu.
Wagyu (Japanese beef) is omnipresent here in Takayama, and pretty much everywhere else we’ve been in the area. Hida-gyu is high-grade beef from the famed wagyu cows, as long as they’ve spent at least the last 14 months in this area, being massaged and fed sake and all. We’ve enjoyed eating it by grilling it ourselves, finding it on a skewer, and steaming it over a fire and a bed of vegetables. Every which way has been absurdly delicious; it’s no exaggeration to say that the beef just about melts in your mouth. I guess those massages really do make a difference.
The only thing that is perplexing is that we haven’t actually seen cows out and about in the world, like you do in the States. No, there’s not a ton of space, and it’s very hilly (which is why the cows need massages in lieu of real exercise), but nary a cow have we seen. We have seen fields upon fields/paddies upon paddies of rice, and small vegetable farms, though (yay for smallholder farms!). And I’m sure that most paddies are heavily fertilized — Japan is notorious for its use of fertliser; between the shortage of land and the expense of farming processes, farmers need to increase yields as much as possible. Given the consumer sentiment to reduce chemical usage in agriculture, it’d make sense to use cow manure, especially if it were highly available, no? So where are all the cows?!
We’ve also encountered a fantastic assortment of local food, especially the curious rice ball/stick, otherwise known as mitarashi dango: a mass of puréed rice flour basted in soy sauce, charcoal-fired to a chewy ball and/or stick. There’s barely a taste, but combined with beef — or cheese — it’s quite nice. We saw this novelty both as far as hiking in Kamikō-chi to the streets and restaurants of Takayama. Along with the crazy rice, I also actually enjoyed the local miso (a strongly fermented miso variety) and homemade pickles with nearly every meal.
Our “hiking lunch” — hot vegetable bun, croquette, rice stick stuffed with cheese, and a bento box
Hida beef and rice ball skewers, and of course rice
Takayama is also know for its sake — for a town of less than 100,000, there are 8 breweries here. Yum! We’ve enjoyed sampling it in all forms: hot, cold, unrefined, sweet… There’s just so much here to choose from. It’s obvious where all the rice we’ve seen is going: into our (now) full bellies! Keith and many forms of sake (plus a glass of plum wine)
Just some smooth sake to sample, buy, and repeat
It’s been a luxurious three days in Takayama of eating well, hiking in the Alps, soaking in onsen (hot springs)… And now that we are nice and relaxed, we’re just in time to wear ourselves out in that concrete jungle known as Tokyo!