Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Horse: Sashimi, Steak Tartar, Grilled & Soup

Last spring Judy and I traveled to Tokyo to take care of our granddaughter so that Rachael and Nate could do some traveling before they moved back to the U.S. Rachael knew that I wanted to try horse meat, so she found a restaurant nearby that served horse and arranged for a babysitter so that Judy and I could go and enjoy ourselves. What an adventure! It turned out to be one of my favorite meals ever.

The name of the restaurant was in Japanese characters, so we handed the name and address to our Japanese cab driver and he dropped us off in front. When we got out of the cab, we found that there were several restaurants and we could not tell which one it was. All of the restaurant names and advertisements were in Japanese and we couldn't any Japanese characters that looked similar to our instructions. So we walked down some stairs into a restaurant that looked like it might be it and were seated. The waiter handed us a menu, all in Japanese, and I asked if they "served horse meat." The waiter went to find another waiter that spoke a little English and we were able to determine that the restaurant we were in served only blowfish. But our waiter led us up several flights of stairs to another restaurant, spoke to the people there, and they seated us. The proprietor talked to the waiter that brought us up and apparently asked him to stay and serve us (it appeared that both restaurants may have had the same owner), so he brought us another menu, all in Japanese. We asked him what he recommended. He communicated to us that he would bring us a many course meal and we said great.

The first course was a bowl of soup with chunks of horse meat. I was surprised at the sweet taste of the horse in the soup. It was excellent.

The second course was a tray of horse sashimi (strips of raw horse). The Japanese call it basashi. There were three kinds: a dark red, a lighter red mottled with fat, and a pure white. The tray also had ginger, wasabi and shaved radish. The waiter explained that the pieces were from three different parts of the horse. The white part was from the mane (neck) and I have learned since that it was fat. There were three or four pieces of each kind of sashimi for each of Judy and I (the picture below was taken after we had eaten most of it). It was AMAZING. It had a slightly sweet taste and the red pieces were not much different in texture and taste from the very good fatty tuna sashimi we had tried. The white was not as good, but tasted fine.

Below, I eat some horse sashimi with chopsticks.

Next a Japanese speaking waitress brought in a small grill, called a yakiniku, and placed it on our table, along with a plate of horse sashimi and strips of mushroom and bell pepper. When the horse sashimi is cooked on the yakiniku it is called baniku ("horse meat") or bagushi ("skewered horse").
She proceded to grill the vegetables and meat on the grill and served them to us as they were cooked. The horse was very tender, slightly sweet and delicious.
Perhaps the most unusual dish, and the one mentally hardest to eat, was the steak tartar. It was ground raw horse, called sakuraniku (sakura means "cherry blossom" because of the pink color and niku means "meat") which looked like raw hamburger, with a raw quail egg on top, on a bed of rice, with chopped up scallions and covered with some seaweed. It also had a light sauce on top. We mixed it all together and ate it. It was my least favorite of the courses, partly because of the mental struggle I had to go through to eat it, but it was good.
The last course of horse was another soup. This soup had pieces of a thick yellow custard type substance, with chunks of horse meat, and was very creamy. It was delicious.

Finally, for dessert, we got some maple ice cream with pieces of kiwi fruit.

It was a very long meal, perhaps two hours, so Judy and I had plenty of time to chat. The whole set of circumstances, from being in a completely foreign world, with a foreign language, having each course be a total surprise, with an unusual food, and best of all, having it all taste so wonderful, made it the most memorable meal of my life.

Wikipedia, Horse Meat, has a great discussion of horse meat and its consumption around the world. Horse is commonly eaten in many countries, but is taboo in English speaking countries (the U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K. and Ireland). This is likely because they are considered to be companion and sporting animals only. Horse is forbidden by Jewish dietary laws because horses do not have cloven hooves and they are not ruminants. In the 8th century, Popes Gregory III and Zachary instructed Saint Boniface, missionary to the Germans, to forbid converts to eat horse flesh because it was associated with Germanic pagan ceremonies, so it has been discouraged in some countries because of that.

I am a convert. If it were available in the U.S., I would stand in line for it.

1 comment:

  1. I heard this horse sashimi was quite memorable. Guess I'll have to travel to Japan to try some, oh darn! :)