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Until recently, the distinctive style of cooking mutton known as jingisukan — the Japanese transliteration of the name of a well known Mongolian butcher — was thought far too uncouth to be considered seriously. So how did this coarse, blue-collar dish, so long a staple of smoky grills in the godless wilds of Hokkaido, become a boom in trendy Tokyo enclaves?

It has nothing to do with the rise of Asashoryu and his sumo-wrestling compatriots; more to BSE-induced fears about beef; and lots to lamb being touted as the “healthy” meat. But the main reason is that a generation of young Japanese realized just how fun and funky — and, better still, cheap — this food could be. All it needed was the right look and some savvy marketing. Enter Kuro-hitsuji.

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