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Think you’ve tasted the famous Japanese Kobe beef? Think again.
Of course, there are a small number of you out there who have tried it – I did, in Tokyo, and it is delicious. If you ever go to Japan I heartily recommend you splurge, because while it is expensive, it is unique, and you cannot get it in the United States. Not as steaks, not as burgers, certainly not as the ubiquitous “Kobe sliders” at your trendy neighborhood “bistro.” That’s right. You heard me. I did not misspeak. I am not confused like most of the American food media.
You cannot buy Japanese Kobe beef in this country. Not in stores, not by mail, and certainly not in restaurants. No matter how much you have spent, how fancy a steakhouse you went to, or which of the many celebrity chefs who regularly feature “Kobe beef” on their menus you believed, you were duped. I’m really sorry to have to be the one telling you this, but no matter how much you would like to believe you have tasted it, if it wasn’t in Asia you almost certainly have never had Japan’s famous Kobe beef.
You may have had an imitation from the Midwest, Great Plains, South America or Australia, where they produce a lot of what I call “Faux-be” beef. You may have even had a Kobe imposter from Japan before 2010. It is now illegal to import (or even hand carry for personal consumption) any Japanese beef. Before 2010 you could import only boneless fresh Japanese beef, but none was real Kobe. Under Japanese law, Kobe beef can only came from Hyogo prefecture (of which Kobe is the capital city), where no slaughterhouses were approved for export by the USDA. According to its own trade group, the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association in Japan, where Kobe Beef is a registered trademark, Macao is the only place it is exported to – and only since last year. If you had real Kobe beef in this country in recent years, someone probably smuggled it in their luggage.
This matters because the reason food lovers and expense account diners want Kobe beef, and are willing to pay a huge premium for it, is because of the real Kobe’s longstanding reputation for excellence. The con the US food industry is running is leading you to believe that what you are paying huge dollars for – like the $40 NYC “Kobe” burger – is somehow linked to this heritage of excellence. It’s not.