The 54th edition of the Taittinger International Culinary Prize for Author’s Cuisine was due to take place on January 11th 2022.  It has to be postponed unfortunately, due to the evolving health situation. On the occasion of the Prize, Ryoko Sekiguchi – author, poet, journalist specializing in culinary cultures, living between Paris and Tokyo – gave us a story around the imposed theme: The beef. We wanted to share it with you.

The Japanese prepare meat just like their homeland: juicy, tender, with a fainter “animal” aroma. Just like their cheeses and other dairy products, which have a sweeter taste.

Legend has it that Wagyu, commonly known as Kobe beef, is given beer and massaged every day. Its tender marbled flesh suits the Japanese palate perfectly. When it comes to food texture, this isn’t exclusive to meat. No matter what dish or product, a Japanese person almost always pays the same compliments when they eat: “torokeru! (It melts in my mouth! ” and “yawarakai! (It’s tender!)” Many of their words that describe creamy soft textures are onomatopoeic: torotoro , fuwafuwa , yawayawa , furufuru , purupuru…

In short, we Japanese want silken soft comforters for our food. Of course, the more exclusive a product is, the more important this is. Something that will pamper the palate. I once heard a Frenchman exclaim, after a week’s stay in Tokyo: “Come on, give me something to chew! Anything that I can chew!”. “Another friend told me: “It’s as if everything’s been prepared for the elderly…”

But that wasn’t always the case. In the 1970s, there were still senbei (salted rice cakes) or nougats that could break your dental caps, and dried persimmons (shìb i ng) that were not as soft as today’s. Men would chew endless amounts of dried cod and calamari with sake, because they were so difficult to digest. Have they perhaps become symbols of the time when Japan was still a developing country, which the Japanese do not want to remember? Have they chosen tender textures that offer no resistance, to illustrate “la dolce vita”? It is as if they were averting their gaze from a harsh reality. In the last thirty years, the Japanese have developed a fairytale world of tastes, where one walks on a cloud, and hears only kind words. In the midst of this kingdom, there is a supreme ruler: Wagyu.

Yet the trend is changing. Recently, grass fed beef has become increasingly popular as it is considered more natural.

The “tankaku (short horns)” breed, bred in Northeast Japan and Hokkaido, in pasture and by natural breeding, and whose meat is low in fat, is also highly praised. And Japanese women, who used to eat less meat than men, no longer refuse to eat meat, especially lean meat, which is less fatty and rich in iron. Are the Japanese finally going beyond their traditional comfort zone?

Do they run through the meadows, chasing beautiful beasts flourishing in fields of grass? That remains to be seen…

Text : Ryoko Sekiguchi (@ryokosekiguchi)
Illustration : Philippe Dargent (@hobbojournal)