With mad cow disease and the bird flu still making some people anxious about the safety of beef and poultry, an increasing number of Tokyo residents are turning to mutton and lamb.

The number of restaurants serving lamb has grown since last year, said Fumiaki Shimono, 43, operator of Tokyo Jingisukan (mutton barbecue) Club, a Web site he created five years ago for lovers of lamb.

His Web site says there are now 40 restaurants specializing in lamb and mutton meals in Tokyo, up from four in 2000.

“I got only 100 hits per day on my site two years ago,” he said. “But the figure is 1,100 this year.”

Camui, a mutton barbecue restaurant, opened in December in the Akasaka district of Minato Ward, Tokyo. It offers an 800 yen lunch of rice and hot mutton in a pot. The mutton does not have a distinctive odor — an important distinction for Japanese, who believe mutton smells bad.

An employee of the restaurant said it reduces the odor of mutton by only cooking fresh meat.

Mutton and lamb have not been part of most regular diets in Japan. However, it is a popular meal in Hokkaido, home to numerous sheep farms.

The key factor behind mutton’s unpopularity is its odor. The smell of cooked lamb is weaker than that of mutton, experts figure.

Advances in cold-storage technology mean that fresh meat can be transported to urban areas from domestic and overseas farms. Such meat doesn’t smell so bad, the experts reckon.

Japanese have been convinced that mutton smells bad for quite some time, said Tomoyoshi Hatori, a director of the Livestock Technology Association’s sheep promotion division.

“In the prewar period, before cool-storage technology was developed, mutton with (overly) oxidized fat was distributed nationwide,” he said.

The right level of oxidation can make meat more delicious.

The technology is useful for lamb.

Pecora, a lamb restaurant in Tokyo’s Nishi Shinjuku district, uses fresh lamb in its “tataki” dish, in which only the outside of the meat is cooked.

Pecora owner and Sapporo native Tsugumi Shibata said he wants everyone to know that lamb and mutton are delicious, and can be used in a variety of dishes.

His restaurant, which opened in December, also serves lamb “shabu shabu,” boiled strips of meat and vegetables.

Women who are interested in their diet and looking for healthy food are drawn to lamb and mutton.

A certain type of amino acid that can dissolve fat is found in greater quantity in lamb and mutton than in beef or pork, the experts say.

Hatori said, “I hope the current boom will not end soon, and more people eat mutton and lamb.”

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