Thursday, April 20, 2017

[Japan 2016] Kobe: Kobe Beef Lunch @ Steak Land Kobe

Photo By: Elin Chow

Kobe Beef is a prized Japanese delicacy renowned for its tenderness, flavor, heavy marbling and melt-in your-mouth texture. The succulent meat is the reason why we decided to include a visit to the city of Kobe in our 7D6N Japan trip. After all, where better to taste the world-famous Kobe Beef than Kobe itself?

Authentic Kobe Beef can commands an extremely high price in Japan. In fact, it is famously known to be one of the most expensive beef in the world, carrying a price tag of hundreds of dollars per pound. Even though it is expensive, I will still recommend you splurge on this super luxury meat, especially if you are visiting the city of Kobe in Japan.

Kobe Beef has a high level of fat marbling and a relatively low melting point. The taste of the meat is incredibly heavenly and unique, so much different from any other beef you have tasted. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to buy or eat Kobe Beef anywhere in the world because they are rarely exported out of Japan.

Wagyu literally means Japanese cattle that is bred in Japan or Japanese-style.  All Kobe Beef is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe Beef. Most people thought that Kobe and Wagyu are the same premium Japanese Beef, but they are actually not.

Kobe Beef must come from a pure lineage of Tajuma-gyu wagyu cattle that are born and raised in Hyogo prefecture. But not all Tajuma-gyu deserve the title "Kobe Beef". Only the chosen few that satisfy the specific quality criteria set out by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association can be labeled the Kobe Beef. Due to the strict standards, only 3,000 head of cattle qualify as Kobe Beef per year. It is the rarity of the meat that makes it so valuable and expensive.

The production of Kobe Beef is rigorously monitored. Wagyu are usually raised to three years old, giving the cattle a longer period for fattening. They are largely kept indoor and are fed a high quality and nutritious feed, consisting a blend of rice, straw, maize, barley and various other ingredients and drink only fresh and clean water. Once all the strict criteria are satisfied, the Wagyu will be labeled "Kobe, and will carry a 10-digit identification number.

Kobe Beef can be prepared and served as steak, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, sashimi and Teppanyaki. But the best way to enjoy it is at a Teppanyaki restaurant where a chef grills the meat on a huge iron griddle in front of hungry diners.

After reading numerous reviews online, my husband and I decided to dine at Steak Land, one of the most popular Kobe Beef restaurant in Kobe city. This restaurant comes highly recommended and did not disappoint.

Steak Land is conveniently located right across Hankyu Sannomiya Station and is always packed with both locals and tourists alike. It is certainly one of the best place to try authentic Kobe Beef in the city due to their relatively affordable price and central location.

Steak Land is open from 11.00 am to 10.00 pm everyday. The restaurant opens at 11.00 am and closes at 2.00 pm for lunch and will reopen again at 5.00 pm for dinner. Even though lunch time is until 2.00 pm, the restaurant will start turning people away at 1.30 pm (or even earlier).

We arrived slightly past 1.00 pm and make it for their last lunch slot of the day. People who arrived slightly later than us were turned away by the restaurant. How lucky we were! Thus, I suggest that you come earlier if you plan to have your lunch at Steak Land to avoid any disappointment.

We were seated around a huge iron griddle with another five people. Each table has its own chef in the middle where the delicacy will be prepared right before your eyes. As soon as we were seated, a waitress came to take our orders. Remember to order the set that is labeled as "Kobe Beef". Without the word "Kobe", the meat is just an ordinary beef.

My husband and I ordered the Kobe Beef lunch set priced at 3,180 Yen each. Each set comes with 150 g of Kobe Beef, a bowl of rice, miso soup, grilled vegetables, Japanese pickles and a choice of after-meal coffee or orange juice.

We waited in anticipation while the restaurant prepared our orders. Minutes later, a chef came to our table with plate loaded with thick slabs of uncooked meat.

The meat has a higher proportion of fat than other beef. Some diners, especially those who are not a fan of fatty meat, might find it too fatty and greasy. But Kobe Beef is just all about fats. The soft fat is what makes the meat flavorful and delicious.

It was fascinating to watch the chef prepare our food right before our eyes. To start, the chef melted some butter on sizzling hot griddle.

Once the butter was fully melted, the chef then proceeded to saute garlic chips. The garlic were gently cooked over medium low heat until fragrant.

Once done, the chef distributed the sauteed garlic chips evenly to each of our plates before proceeding to grill the beef.

Placing the beef on the iron griddle, the chef seasoned the meat lightly with some salt and pepper. Seasonings are limited to to soy sauce, wine, salt and pepper in order to bring out the original flavor of the beef

Once both sides of the meat are seared, the chef skillfully cuts the meat into half, then the stripes into several smaller cubes. 

Each cube of Kobe Beef is cooked no further than medium-rare to retain the maximum flavor. This is because unlike other beef, Kobe Beef has a lower melting point. The meat melts at a lower temperature and if it is cooked too long, it will simply melts away.

Thus, Kobe Beef must be quick grilled as over cooking it will result in a dry and tasteless piece of meat. A skilful chef should be able to bring out the maximum flavor of beef.

Once the meat is cooked to a medium rare, the chef distributed them to each of the plates evenly. Each diner will get about 7-8 pieces of meat.

Then, the chef proceeded to grill a generous amount of vegetables and bean sprouts, seasoning them with salt and pepper.

Enjoy the succulent meat while it is still piping hot. Cooked to perfection, the beef is incredibly tender, juicy and flavorful. It was very soft and not greasy at all. The fats are dispersed throughout the beef and melts in low temperature, giving it a buttery and melt-in-mouth texture. There was not much chewing needed because the meat will just melt away on its own once I put it into my mouth.

The portions are small yet adequate. Each cube of meat is well-seasoned, just enough to enhance the flavor of the meat. Even without any extra garnishing or condiments, it is still amazingly delicious and flavorful on its own.

I am trying to chew as slowly as I can so that I can savor each bite. This is certainly the best beef I have tasted so far. Yes, it is expensive, but I still find it reasonably priced.

All in all, Steak Land offers a culinary experience that I would never forget. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who would like to try Kobe Beef. It is absolutely worth the splurge.

After our hearty lunch, we made our way to the Hanshin Railway Sannomiya Station again to take a train back to Osaka. However, we accidentally took the train bounded for Hanshin Umeda Station instead of Osaka-Namba Station. 

Price: 675 Yen

Since it was still early, we decided to check out the Daimaru department store in Umeda. We chanced upon this Rikuro Ojisan's Baked Cheesecake store at the bottom of Daimaru and decided to buy one to try.  Just like Pablo Cheesecake, Rikuro Ojisan's Baked Cheesecake is also originated from Osaka. Measuring 18cm in diameter, the cheesecake can easily be shared by 4 persons.

All the cheesecakes from Rikuro Ojisan are freshly baked. The outlet has an open kitchen so that you can watch the cheesecakes being made while waiting in the line. 

The cheesecake is best to enjoyed while it is still hot and fluffy. It is incredibly light and bouncy with a melt-in-your-mouth texture. Futhermore, it was not overly too sweet or heavy. Having tried both Pablo Cheesecake and Rikuro Ojisan's Baked Cheesecake, my husband and I actually love the latter more.

Price: 1,200 Yen

We also bought some grapes from Daimaru before heading back to our Airbnb apartment in the Namba area. It was very expensive and does not taste as nice as it looks. We took a short rest at our apartment before heading out to Dotonbori to grab dinner. This was basically how we spent our last 2 nights in Osaka.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 7 days in Japan. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.

Monday, April 10, 2017

[Japan 2016] Kobe: Meriken Park + Kobe Harborland

Photo By: Elin Chow

Leaving Nankinmachi, we headed to the next popular tourist attraction in Kobe - The Meriken Park. Meriken Park is located just 10 minutes walk from Nankinmachi. Close to Meriken Park is Kobe Harborland, a busy shopping and entertainment district in Kobe.

Passing through Nankinmachi and head towards the red Kobe Port Tower, we reached a large parking lot with several twisted overhead expressways after climbing up an overhead bridge. This is a gateway to Meriken Park, in which you will pass by a couple of hotels, eventually arriving at the base of the Kobe Port Tower.

Meriken Park is a waterfront park built on an outcropping of reclaimed land in Kobe's port area. The Park features some of the most iconic landmarks in Kobe, including the Kobe Port Tower and Kobe Maritime Museum, as well as Harborland. It is one of the most popular tourist spots in Kobe and should not be missed on a trip to the port city.

Completed in 1963, The Kobe Port Tower has been the most recognizable landmark of the Port city of Kobe. Standing at 108 metres tall, the Kobe Port Tower is the first tower in the world using a pipe lattice, The tower is inspired by a Tsuzumi, a traditional Japanese drum like instrument consisting of a wooden drum shaped like a hourglass. The Tsuzumi has two drum heads, which are fastened by ropes.

The Kobe Port Tower is surrounded by 32 red steel pipes, hence it is also named the "Beauty of Iron Tower". Since its completion, the tower has since won several architecture awards for its unique design.

The tower has three observation decks, offering a spectacular 360 view over the bay and surrounding areas. Other than that, the tower also has shops and restaurants, as well as a rotating cafe. It is definitely a must see for visitors visiting the city of Kobe.

When darkness falls, the tower is illuminated with thousands of colorful LED lights, adding colors to the night in Kobe. However, we did not managed to witness that beautiful sight because we left Kobe right after lunch.

The beautiful port provides plenty of great photo opportunities for visitors.

Other notable building that you will find in Meriken Park include the impressive four-star Meriken Park Oriental Hotel. Designed to resemble a luxury cruise liner docked in the harbor, surrounded by the ocean on all three sides, the hotel is undoubtedly one of the landmark of the Port city.

The city of Kobe was once devastated by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, killing more than 6,400 people. Nearly 400,000 buildings were irreparably damaged by the earthquake, including 120 out of the 150 quays in the port of Kobe.

Before the earthquake, the port of Kobe was the busiest in Japan. Even though the city has been fully restored, a small part of it has been left unrepaired as a reminder of the earthquake.

Today, the port of Kobe has slipped to the fourth busiest port in Japan.. It operates two cruise terminals, both of which are located within close proximity to each other. Located right in the center of the waterfront park, you will find the Naka Pier Cruise Terminal, which is used to accommodate small to mid-sized cruise ships. The larger sized cruise ships dock at Kobe Port Terminal, which is located outside the city center and is connected to Naka Pier Cruise Terminal by the Kobe Port Liner.

Surrounded by the lush green Rokko mountains and blue waters, the port of Kobe is one of the most beautiful port in the world. There is nothing much to do or see at Meriken Park. It was boring, and in fact, it was our least favorite place we have visited during our 7D6N Japan trip. Indeed, the port city of Kobe is beautiful, but sadly, we just did not love it or like it as much as we like other cities in Japan.

Meriken Park was not huge, but it was a pleasant and peaceful place to relax and have a stroll. The park was not crowded with people when we visited on a weekday morning. We were surprised at how empty the park was that morning. Perhaps, it might be because we visited on a weekday instead of a weekend.

Walking along the waterway, to the opposite shore of Meriken Park, you will reach Kobe Harborland, another popular destination amongst the local people and tourists alike.

Continuing down a paved pathway, we arrived at Mosaic, a shopping mall overlooking the port of Kobe and Kobe Port Tower. 

Stretching along the waterfront, Mosaic offers a good selection of shops and restaurants, most of which overlooks the beautiful harbor.

Other than that, you will also find a small amusement park in at the end of Mosaic, which gives Kobe Harborland a carnival feel. The amusement park  is complete with a giant Ferris Wheel and some other joyrides for children.

Right next to the Ferris Wheel, you will find the Kobe Anpanman Children's Museum & Mall, dedicated specially to Anpanman and his friends. This is where kids will enjoy spending a day with their favorite Japanese characters.

For those who do not know, Anpanman is one of the most popular anime series among young children in Japan. Anpanman is a bread-headed superhero who protects the world from a evil germ called Baikinman.

We probably spend an hour or two wandering through Meriken Park and Harborland. If you are not interested in shopping, I believe two hours will be sufficient to see the entire place. Overall, we find this tourist attraction dull and uninteresting. In fact, I have a feeling that we visited just for the sake of visiting this popular attraction in the city. We did not like it or hate it at all.

So, is it worth visiting? Well, if you have some spare time, I do recommend visiting. It was still a nice place to take a stroll and relax with a view.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 7 days in Japan. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.