Horsemeat fan vs. the neigh-sayers

by Michael Kleindl

Special To The Japan Times

A few dabs of equine DNA found in so-called “beefburgers” caused quite a kerfuffle last month, shocking unsuspecting customers of the British supermarket chain Tesco (and then other stores) into outrage.

But Japan has no objection to hippophagy, horse-eating, something we carnivores have been sinking our teeth into since we first started banging two stones together and hurling spears.

And its not just the Japanese (and the Paleolithics) who have the taste for horseflesh but also the Chinese, French, Italians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Argentinians, Mongolians and many other-ians. If it’s good enough for all of them, surely it’s good enough for the Brits too?

In fact, it’s better than good enough. Despite pangs of Black Beauty-induced guilt some of us may feel, the lean, nutritious meat is deeply delicious.

Japan has a long and respected history of equine cuisine. Two of my favorite horseflesh establishments, Nakae in Taito Ward ([03] 3872-5389; www.sakuranabe.com) and Minowa in Koto Ward ([03] 3631-8298; www.e-minoya.jp), have both been serving sakura-niku (cherry meat) for over a century.

The sakura moniker comes from the bright red color of the flesh, which has a fine, close texture and a faint underlying sweetness. It also has more protein, less fat, less sodium, less cholesterol and fewer calories than beef or pork. The meat is usually sourced from horses 2 to 6 years old, free-ranged and grass-fed in Kyushu.

One of the best ways to jump-start your Paleo genes is with an order of niku-sashi, thin slices of raw horsemeat sashimi from the lower back of the beast, served with a dab of freshly-grated ginger and a soy dipping sauce. Another popular dish is the pale pink abura-sashi, slices of sashimi from back of the neck. The tender flesh is also served as basashi-zushi, (horsemeat sushi) or as steak tartare.

The main attraction at both establishments, however, is sakura-nabe, a sukiyaki-style dish you cook yourself in a shallow iron pot at your table. The pot holds a rich warishita broth made of dashi, soy sauce and mirin. Into this broth you place a mound of shirataki, thin noodles made from devil’s tongue root; a few slices of negi (welsh onion); a couple slices of fu (wheat-gluten dumplings); and thin slices of bright red thigh meat, moistened with a spoonful of sweet brown miso.

Once the stew starts bubbling, you remove each tidbit one by one, then dip it — just as in sukiyaki — into a cup of stirred raw egg as a sauce. Be sure to keep your eye on the meat, for it quickly colors in the simmering sauce. Eat it when it still has a few pink blushes.

In both restaurants, sitting side by side up on a kamidana, the god’s shelf, are a seemingly discordant pair of deities: Daikoku, the god of business prosperity, and Bato Kannon, the god and protector of horses. Apparently, they’ve worked out an agreement.

So to those Brits currently fuming about their eight-for-£1 value burger patties infused with unexpected horseflesh, I say: Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it raw.

Michael Kleindl has been writing about food and Tokyo for 15 years. Follow his food blog at www.tokyofoodlife.com.

  • bogwart

    Do get your facts straight, please. Our outrage was caused not by the fact that the meat was horse, but that it was represented as beef. Granted, a minority of people would buy horsemeat but that is due to our culture, rather than any adverse reactions to the taste.
    Over the past few years we have been introduced to many – to us – exotic meats such as kangaroo, ostrich, crocodile, buffalo etc and I am sure we could manage to adjust to horse. I am equally sure that we ate large numbers of horses during World War II.
    We do have a right to know what we are eating in order to be able to make an informed choice.

    • S. Z.

      I was just about to say the same. I’m not in Britain, but I am an adventurous eater and I don’t have any adverse objection to eating horse meat. But as bogwart pointed out correctly so, it’s the false representation that would’ve gotten me too if I was one of those people buying the “beef” mince.

  • Guest

    Another main concern is the fact that the horse meat found to be used in products labelled as beef comes from horses which have not been bred to be eaten.
    There have been no regulations to ensure the food they have been fed or supplements used made them safe for human consumption

    • S. Z.

      I just watched a documentary about the horse meat scandal (Australia’s ABC Foreign Correspondent). The documentary says that the horse meat sources are coming from race horses, which are injected with anti-inflammatory medication like bute (Phenylbutazone). These drugs are harmful for human consumption.

  • rupertsuginamiku@gmail.com

    We are not talking about ” a few dabs of equine DNA ” as in the case of Findus lasagna which was 100% horsemeat and in many other so called beef products in all major supermarkets which have been pulled from their shelves where levels of 20 to 60 % were found. Not only that but some of the horses in the supply chain are suspected of containing levels of “bute ” which is a potential health risk .
    The entire processed meat market has somehow managed to sidestep regulations governing the provenance of animals in the supply chain such as animal passports
    giving vetinary records of all drugs given to each beast .
    Supermarkets have been squeezing the markets of suppliers in the UK to such an extent that they are now sourcing supplies from very dubious souces .
    We are now living in a world of vast agribusinesses where animals now live in squalid conditions resulting in outbreaks of diseases such as SARS and BSE .
    Nobody denies that horsemeat if carefully regulated is not a perfeccly acceptable source of protein but consumers have every right to know that what it says on the label
    is what you are buying .

  • André Tassinari

    I would love to try horsemeat when going to japan, but here in Brazil I’ve never heard of a place where people eat it.