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 ( 3872-5389; www.sakuranabe.com) and Minowa in Koto Ward ( 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.