There was a period in my life when I went vegetarian. Upon finding it really difficult to find good, affordable vegetarian food that didn’t consist of processed beans, mock meats (why??) and other starchy, fried stuff here in Singapore, I reverted to a mostly pescatarian diet. I’m hardly an adventurous eater, but visiting Japan always helps me level up. After a memorable trip to Hokkaido, I actually started eating sashimi. And after another gluttonous holiday in Kyoto/Tokyo, I learnt not to dismiss yakiniku as just some greasy, fat-filled bloody meat.
The place was Yazawa at Robertson Walk (I think it’s practically impossible to eat there if you don’t have a reservation). The mission: to find out why people go crazy for expensive slivers of marbled meat, which they even have to grill by themselves.
We started off with very tame green teas and the Yazawa salad, which is basically “two kinds of lettuce and cucumber with sesame oil dressing” which they managed to make quite tasty.
Next, the flesh in all their pre-cooked glory:
Tontoro, or fatty pork neck. With the thick layers of fat, it reminded me of bacon, but more tender and juicy, and obviously not as salty. I’m still not a pork-lover at all, but if it’s seasoned enough I might be persuaded…
Ox tongue (Australian). Hmmm no-go for me, but my companions loved it.
Rib shin: the fattiest (and costliest) Yazawa beef on offer. Look at it… I call 50-60% fat, hehe :X
Ichibo: the medium fatty Yazawa beef. Also simply seasoned with salt and pepper.
Sankaku: the leanest Yazawa beef we tried. Seasoned in their tare marinade.
I was a bit surprised that the grill we used was of relatively low acreage, and cooking was flame instead of charcoal-based. I have tried charcoal BBQ before and, well, I’m not sufficiently experienced at meat or cooking to be able to describe the difference very much. One thing I will say is that Yazawa’s grill system is really efficient at keeping the smells of smoke and barbecue off one’s hair and clothing.
Fun with the grill ensued, and if you’re a meat-addict I guess the pictures speak for themselves:
L: The Tontoro pork shrinking as it cooks!
R: Yazawa rib shin – these superfatted morsels actually had to be grilled one at a time because we were instructed to give them no more than three (!) seconds per side. I have videos of it but we kept getting videobombed by the staff who were very diligent about changing our grill plate.
L: Ichibo and R: Sankaku, both of which were slightly easier to cook as we could slap on a few slices at a time.
We even had some of the tori momoniku, boneless chicken thigh seasoned with spicy miso.
Even paired with rice or veggies, Sankaku tasted vaguely metallic to me. Of course, it was the leanest cut of our selection, plus I am just not accustomed to ingesting red meat.
L: Ichibo, the medium fatty one, tasted like a nice burger would.
R: Rib shin, the triangular taste explosion, being very smooth and buttery, was surprisingly palatable.
The damage? It came up to nearly S$100 per person, and we didn’t really eat a lot (being naughty and having had dessert before dinner, which is another story for anther day). Even so, this meal kept me feeling really full until late morning the next day – and I am usually ravenous once I get up. I had probably eaten more red meat in one sitting than I have for the past five years (which was close to zero). Still, my philosophy with food or any other adventures in general is, if it isn’t creepy, crawly or dangerous, keep an open mind and try it at least once. Especially when Japan has such a great amount of respect for the food it produces and the manner in which it is presented, which I fully embrace.