ORIGIN/ HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Japan has over 300 brands of beef but there are only three major brands that are very well known until now; Matsusaka Beef (松阪牛), Kobe Beef (神戸牛), and Omi Beef (近江牛). Omi Beef, one of the top three beef in Japan, dates back over 400 years from now and is the oldest among the three. Omi Beef came from the Japanese Black cattle that has been bred for a long time at an old province in Japan, Ōmi Province, now comprising Shiga prefecture. The Eastern Shiga is known to have a rich natural environment good for cattle breeding.
During the Tokugawa or Edo period, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the second great unifier of Japan, attacked and ambushed the Odawara’s Castle. His warlord, Ukon Takayama, had served an unknown beef to both Gamo Ujisato and Tadaoki Hosokawa. During 1687, beef was by then used as a medicinal product only. But one day, one of the Hikone clan invented a dish called Honpongan or a pickled beef miso soup with beef as its main ingredients. The beef used for medicinal purposes was said to be dried by the Hikone Clan and was only made during the coldest season to minimize the natural salting of the beef and to have a medicinal taste on it. In the Edo period, the Hikone beef and its dish was sold for medicinal purposes only.
In The Meiji era, there were some established businesses that butchered and shipped cows and cattle to all other cities and also to foreigners. Because of this, livestock markets were introduced to the public. And lastly, during the Taisho to Heisei periods, the livestock markets were recognized and it encouraged more production on Japanese beef. Omi Beef Association was established promoting branded beef in Japan. By then, the importation of Omi Beef became liberalized and had a unified definition for it.
HOW IS IT MADE?
Omi Beef came from the most pampered Japanese cattles who have been living in a good and relaxing environment with everybody ensuring that the water they need should be fresh and is not contaminated. Special ponds were also built just for its drinking water. These Japanese cattles were said to have eaten good foods such as sweet corn and wheat and other special grain diets. They were fed twice a day and towards the end of their 30-month lives. They were also given occasional beer and special massage to prevent tough muscles to form. These cattles were butchered when they had already reached their 30-46 months old (exactly 3-4 years old). It was around this time that the meat of the butchered Japanese cattle would produce a high quality meat.
According to the Japanese Meat Grading Association, they grade the meat through its yield and meat tenderness quality. The “yield grade” is determined on the proportion of edible meat obtained from one head of cattle and there are three (3) letters used in yield grades; A,B, and C in which A is the best rate. The marbling system or the “meat tenderness grade” is determined by the Beef Marbling Standard (BMS) which uses five (5) numbers from one being the lowest and five being the highest. Other factors such as the meat’s color & brightness, its firmness & texture, its fat color and luster quality were also given into consideration in grading the meat.
What’s so unique about it?
Being one of the top three beef in Japan and is also one of the highest grade beef in Japan, the uniqueness of Omi Beef is that it has some incredible marbling. It has a white flecks or streaks of fat within the lean sections of meat on the large beef that makes it more tender and delicious and its melting point of 25 degrees Celsius (25°C) is lower than other beef brands in Japan. It is also popular for its clean aftertaste of fatty meat. Omi Beef also has a high oleic acid content which is good for a person’s health. An oleic acid is a kind of monounsaturated fat or those heart- healthy fat one usually finds in olive oil.
The Japanese beef which has been rated an A5 grade is the most expensive in Japan but not all wagyu grade A5 gives a satisfactory taste because most of the Japanese beef tends to have a melt-in-the-mouth texture but sometimes it lacks flavor. This happens because there is more oleic acid than amino acid in the beef. The more amino acid in the beef has, the stronger the beef taste and the more oleic acids the beef has, the juicier the fat will become. And if there are more oleic acids than amino acids, you will taste the beef’s oiliness and it lacks something in its overall taste. So in other words, the beef should have a high amino acids percentage while retaining their high oleic acid.
OMI GYU RESTAURANTS
All the top three beef in Japan were very expensive and too costly to eat. But compared to other brands of Japanese beef, Omi beef is the natural choice when it comes to delicious and affordable prices. Some tourists would find a place or restaurant wherein they can taste the high quality meat of Omi Beef but at the same time, at a very reasonable price. The Omi Beef price starts from 2100円 or $20 up to 10,000円 ($92). There are a lot of Wagyu restaurants in Japan and it will not be a problem to find one. Your budget will only matter.
If you want to try Omi Beef in Shiga Prefecture, try Daikichi Restaurant. It is one station away from Katada and about 10 minutes walk away from the station. This restaurant specializes in beef dishes, especially the Omi beef which comes from directly on their own ranch. Their first floor is a retail shop where there is a good range of beef, from the regular wagyu to the expensive omi beef, in a refrigerated unit. And on the second floor was their main restaurant, where you can choose between the tables where you can cook your own meat with the table-top grill or you can choose the counter where their skilled chef will cook in front of you. This restaurant serves a wide variety of dishes and they even serve you with lots of side dishes too. They are located at 2-25-11, Imakatata, Otsu-shi, Shiga, 520-0241, Japan and if you want to book for a reservation you can call them on their landline number +81(0)77-572-1129.
You can find many omi beef restaurants if you are travelling to Kyoto now because prices in Kyoto are by far cheaper than in Tokyo and Kyoto is located next to Shiga prefecture which is the land where Omi Beef is produced.
STEAK & WINE Meat Bar GINJIRO (East of Kyoto Station branch store)
Steak & Wine Meat Bar Ginjiro is a meat-bar style restaurant where you can enjoy both their delicious meat and aromatic wine. The main store is in Karasuma Oike, and there are two stores in front of Kyoto station and one in Pontocho. It has a stylish exterior and it’s quite a small branch store with only 22 seats to be accommodated but it has a good reputation where you can eat delicious steak with varieties of Omi beef menu. If you enjoy having your beef partnered with wine, this restaurant is perfect for you. It is located at 600-8211 220-1, Maoyacho, Shimogyo-ku Kyoto City. It is usually open for lunch around 11:30-14:30 and they are open on Sundays too. If you want, you can book for a reservation on their landline +075-353-7015.
This restaurant is popular because you can enjoy a high quality of Omi Beef while feeling the taste of Kyoto. This Yakiniku restaurant is a hideaway style restaurant that blends in the streets of Gion. Only high quality meat is carefully selected. Their restaurant is located at 254-9 North side of Gion-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto Prefecture Kyoto Prefecture 1st floor OKI Building or you can call their landline +81(0)75-754-8330 to make a reservation.
This is the first teppan-yaki restaurant that was certified to serve varieties of Omi beef dishes in Kyoto City . There are counter seats in the restaurants and an image of a traditional house in Kyoto will surely welcome you inside of the restaurant. They carefully select ingredients on every dish they make such as Omi beef and lobster which are grilled dynamically and delicately by the chef using the iron plate. You will fully enjoy the performance of the chef. There are various course meals, so this restaurant is suitable for various anniversaries such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries. It’s quite expensive compared to the other three restaurants above, it’s lunch starts at JPY 4,598 but all dishes are worth the price. This is located at RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto 600-8237 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward Kyoto, 1st floor basement or you can call for reservations at their landline +81(0)75-361-9225.
Omi Beef can be eaten occasionally because it is costlier than expected but because it has a high oleic acid content or it has a higher healthy fat content which means that the higher the level of oleic acid it has, the higher the level of healthy fat one will get therefore, Omi Beef can also be a regular addition to one’s weekly diet. Tasting Omi Beef will surely raise your standards to other kinds of meat and will leave you longing for it a second time around.