The area around Niimi in Okayama Prefecture is famous for Chiya gyu, a type of Japanese beef known for its marbled meat which is very similar to Kobe beef.
Wagyu beef are bred all over Japan, so it’s possible to enjoy a variety of delicious beef in different parts of the country. Some people might think that Kobe beef is the only type of beef coming from Japan, but nothing if further from the truth.
When I moved to Japan , people told me that the area where I lived was famous for its Jinseki beef and they let me on a little secret: some of the super expensive Kobe beef were actually born in the area where I lived and work. These beef are raised in tiny farms which dots the mountains of Hiroshima and they are transported to Kobe before being slaughtered. It took me a while to find these farms, they seem to be hidden in secret valleys, but one of them was actually about 500m from my house.
The Chiya Gyu yakiniku restaurant in Niimi is no secret and it is own by the JA farmers Coop. You will find it wedge between a fresh market and a farmer equipment store. So if you need a shovel and a bag of fresh tomatoes, it’s the perfect place.
The name of the restaurant is not very original, but it’s the perfect place to try the local breed of beef. The restaurant has been renovated recently and the new interior is very simple. There is some very nice private rooms on each side of the restaurant so it’s the perfect place for a party!
There is something counter intuitive in eating fatty meat. I was raised by a mother who equated fat with sudden death. It is only in Japan, that I discovered the joy of fat and medium rare steak. I use to eat my steak beyond well done, but I learn to appreciate the taste of beef in Japan.
It’s my second visit to Chiyagyu and we ordered two menus for 4 people.
The first menu had a very high-grade meat along with a plate of seafood. This is the show stopper meat at Chiya Gyu, the buttery meat that melts in your mouth.
The second menu had some lower grade beef, tongue, sausage and horumon.
The lower grade meat is significantly less fatty, something similar to a filet mignon in North America. The sizable chunk of horumon were fatty and not chewy. The tongue was cut pretty thick, but the taste was really good.
Tongue is one of my favorite cut of meat in Japan.
There is two sauce offered, a soy sauce based sauce and a miso based sauce. I preferred the miso sauce. The quality and the taste of the sauce is a big part of the yakiniku experience. It’s the signature of the restaurant.
The meal came with a generous plate of veggies and a salad. Being are farmers coop own restaurant, the vegetables were delicious.
Niimi Chiyagyu is a very affordable pleasure. Ok, Niimi is probably on most people list of places to visit, but if you ever have to travel near Niimi, don’t miss a chance to taste the local wagyu.
WARNING: They say that ignorance is bliss, and if you have never eaten superior grade wagyu, this might affect the way you perceive the taste of meat for the rest of your life. If the taste of wagyu grows on you, you will crave it and you will have to push back the memories of wagyu far back to enjoy your utilitarian steak.