In Japan, eating Horse Meat (also known as Sakura-niku or Cherry Blossom Meat) is a delicacy and Kumamoto Prefecture is very well known for this cuisine.
(Just some history) The land near Mount Aso (active volcano, last erupted in April 2016) is filled with green pastures and rich grasslands and horses became in abundance after the 1960s when they were no longer needed for transport and agriculture purposes (unverified information that I found online). As a result, these horses found their way to the plates =/
Eating horse meat is something not socially acceptable in many countries beyond Japan. Few years back, there was a big hoo-ha about horse meat found in ikea meatballs but oh wells, Japan is famous for its wide variety of food. They can make sashimi out of everything anything, even chicken (which we tried in Himeji).One of the food which I’ve yet to overcome the barrier of eating is Milt (Cod fish sperm) which looks.. simply disgusting but, who knows, maybe I will have to eat it some day..
Anyway, this was not the first time I ate horse meat. The last time I ate it was at a ryokan back in Hakone and back then, it was served sashimi-style and I only had one slice. I didn’t remember it tasting extraordinary but it felt very similar to beef in terms of texture. However, this time round, the experience is so different and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I find myself enjoying the taste of horse meat. When I posted the photos of horse meat on my Instagram account, many of my friends were like ‘disgusted’ or questioning my food options (well that’s because horse meat is not available in Singapore) but do you know that due to the ‘athletic’ nature of the horse, the meat is actually a healthier choice in comparison to beef? It contains less fats, more vitamins and proteins than the other read meat options plus, I find that the meat is a lot more tender and chewable which.. makes it really unique!
There are many styles of cooking when it comes to the preparation of Horse Meat and in my recent trip, I tried 3 styles – Sashimi, Minced Fried and Grilled.
Anyway, here are the places that you can consider eating horse meat:
Set Menu Price: 3500Y
Specialty: Horse Sashimi (Basashi)
Yokobachi is a popular restaurant among the locals and it is situated in the heart of Kumamoto City. It was within walking distance from our accommodation which was situated along the main shopping street.
We had the 3500Y Set Menu which was 9-courses and it was really really filling! Despite the higher than average price, I felt that the food quality and serving size was very reasonable for its price tag.
Dish 1 – Sashimi Plater (6 types) served with real Wasabi (not the powder or flavoured one)
Very fresh sashimi (but I guess most places in Japan will serve real good Sashimi right? since that’s their speciality after all..)
Dish 2 – Horse Sashimi Platter
Sashimi seems to be my favourite style. Eating it with onions, spring onions, garlic and soya sauce is like the best thing ever. Anyway, the platter below is for 4 pax.
Dish 3 – Caesar Salad
With that much fried stuff in the salad, it was really delicious. The fried beetroot and lotus root tasted really good!
Dish 4 – Giant bowl of chawanmushi with seaweed (steamed egg)
When this dish came, we all thought it was some sort of soup due to the seaweed but it turns out that it was a giant plate of chawanmushi! It tasted so great that I helped myself to plenty of servings! The egg was just so smooth and silky and the seaweed helped to enhance the flavour of the egg. Really delicious!
Dish 5 – Beef Skewers
Dish 6 – Chilli Spice Fried Chicken Wings
Dish 7 – Fire Pot with a pile of meat & vegetables
plus you can eat it with noodles or rice (Dish 8) at the end – It was really delicious yet super spicy at the same time. It has the same taste as mala hotpot which numbs your tongue. I’m surprised that Japanese can deal with this amount of spicy level.
Dish 9 – Assortment of Desserts
and we ended the meal with some sweet treats!
Lunch after viewing of Kumamoto Castle
Aso-tei Yamami-chaya @ Sakura-no-kohji
Address: 阿蘇庭 山見茶屋 Josaien, 1-1-2 Ninomaru, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture 860-0008, Japan
Specialty: Horse Meat on Lava Stone Grill
At 1,980Y, this is quite a bargain for the amount of horse meat serving you will be given. A unique thing about this restaurant place is that you get to cook your own horsemeat on a lava stone grill. This lave stone setup is not very common so it’s pretty interesting that you get some hands on “cooking” done.
I didn’t really take much photos in this restaurant as I was too busy grilling my meat but here’s a video I posted on instagram. Hear the sizzle~~
If you need more photos and information about this place, please click this link (Chinese). The entry was written by a fellow blogger from Hong Kong who traveled with me.
Horse Meat Croquette at Sakura-no-kohji area
Since I was in the mood for more delicious horse meat, I grabbed a Horse Meat Croquette at one of the stalls at the shopping/restaurant street area. This place was at the same area where we had the grilled horse meat for lunch. Anyway, this croquette is.. very delicious as well! At 250Y, it is definitely the most value for money item given the amount of meat it contains. I don’t really know how to describe the taste of the minced meat but the moment you bite on it, you will know that it is not beef and not pork nor chicken. You got to try it to know it and I know I’m failing in finding the correct words to describe the taste but.. oh wells, try it when you have the chance!
Apart from Horse Meat, Kumamoto also has a famous Tonkatsu restaurant! The ratings on google is 4.5/5 with almost 200 reviews and I must say that this is a very good rating given how critical people online! We had a really early dinner – at about 5pm because any later, we would have to queue. When we left at about 6pm+, there were already people waiting to enter and it was just a random tuesday evening. I guess people in Japan end work really early or the food is so good that they can end work early to eat.
Katsuretsu Tei Shinshigai
Address: 8-18 Shinshigai, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture 860-0803, Japan
Price: 1500 ~ 2500Y (Black Pork)
Specialty: Black Pork Tonkatsu
So.. we were given the freedom to choose whatever we wanted to eat in the restaurant and since we were unsure of what to eat, we asked the waitress for recommendation and.. of course, she recommended the most expensive item in the menu (black pork).
There were two options for black pork – the leaner meat one and the one with the fatty meat and of course I’m sure you know which option I took..
In case you don’t already know, Tonkatsu is very oily since it is deep-fried but you don’t have to worry about it because you will be able to ‘feast’ on free flow salad to even out the guilt. Don’t know if it really works but.. you will be able to ask for free refills of your greens! For the salad, it comes with 2 types of salad sauce that you can pour.
Anyway, how should I describe the meat? The pork is juicy and tender and it was fried to perfection with the skin and crust being not too thick and not too thin! The fatty layer added juciness to the pork and together with the dipping sauce and Japanese rice, it felt like the best Tonkatsu I’ve ever eaten. (Disclaimer: It was the first time I ever tried Black Pork Tonkatsu)
If I had to rate this meal, it would definitely be a 10/10 and I’m sure many people will agree with me too! By the way, they are #1 on TripAdvisor D:
If you want to see more photos or information (Chinese), you can refer to this link.
Shochu Bar – Glocal Bar
Address: 中央区下通1-5-6アリタビル3F 8600807 Kumamoto-shi
On our final night in Kumamoto, we were brought to a local bar in the city. This experience was kind of interesting as most foreigners will be afraid to venture into the nightlife culture due to unfamiliarity (or at least for me) and language barrier. This was my second time visiting a Japanese bar. The first time was at Ginza Gai (Tokyo) where I kind of freaked out but that’s another story.
Anyway, the bar we were brought to was unique in 2 aspects – it has an english speaking bartender and owner (really good Engish with clear and easy to understand pronunciation as verified by a Chinese tour group mate) and it serves Shochu, a more traditional Japanese alcohol which has been overshadowed by Sake over the years.
Glocal = Think Global, Drink Local and the concept behind his bar was that you will be able to speak english and meet local Japanese!
The bar was located at the 3rd floor of a building. If you can find this sign on street level, you are at the right place!The environment is very clean and comfortable and there was no cigarette smell at all (thankfully) when we entered. The
Take the stairs and walk up to the 3rd floor.
The bar is very new, about 15 months old and they used wood and cork as furnishing which makes the environment cozy and comfortable. I’m not sure if there’s any ‘no smoking’ rule for the bar but there was no sign of cigarette smell when we entered!
Here’s the owner – Nori, with his iconic banner backdrop where the roots somehow signifies the flowing of alcohol~
If you take a look at the photo below, the lights are made from shochu bottles! What a creative way to re-use the finished bottles!
There are no cover charges for the bar – you just pay for what you eat/drink and the prices are pretty reasonable at 500 to 700Y/cup.
There are 3 ways to drink Shochu – with hot water, with ice or just plain.
Do note that Shochu, unlike Sake, has a higher alcohol percentage (usually 25%) so if you’re not a strong drinker, do drink in moderation and within your own limits!
Another plus point to this bar is that the bartender does not simply serve you alcohol. Being a shochu fanatic himself, he has personally visited many shochu breweries and he is able to share the history behind every bottle that he has bought. Shochu, unlike Sake, can be made from Sweet Potato and Barley as well; not just rice. Also, if you trace the roots of Shochu, it somewhat originated from the Kyushu region too so.. drinking Shochu in Kumamoto is like eating Hainanese Chicken Rice in Hainan (okay I know this expression is a little too cheesy).
If you are unsure of what type of Shochu you like, you can just let him know your preference (strong, sweetness etc.) and he will be able to recommend you something!
Nori also has a signature drinking style in his bar which is known as the ‘Samurai Shot’. I am not sharing the details about this so you’ll have to visit and find out about it yourself!
This bar is so much more than just a regular bar, it is a place where you can:
- Drink Shochu
- Learn more about the history of Shochu
- Interact with native Japanese and make friends
Still not convinced? Check out their 5/5 ratings on tripadvisor!
Ramen – 天外天 本店
Address: 2-15 Anseimachi, Chūō-ku, Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto-ken 860-0801, Japan
Operating Hours: 6PM – 2AM (or while stocks last)
I haven’t tried this (tonkatsu-based) ramen yet but it was highly recommended by Nori (Glocal Bar Owner).
The ratings are very good on Google Review (4.1)! Do check out this place and let me know if it is worth eating!
Review from TripAdvisor.
Read the other articles for my Trip:
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