Home > The Food of Japan > Traveling and seeking Japanese food [Vol.6]


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The Food of Japan Culinary Delights for the Body and Soul

Traveling and seeking Japanese food

Food journalist, Christopher K. Loew's report on Japanese food from his participation in a foreign media tour in Japan.

Kagoshima site visit promotes beef to Singapore market

As part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ ongoing Media Familiarization Tour program, a new Singapore food show was invited to film in Kagoshima Prefecture, at the southern end of Kyushu Island.

The Mandarin-language TV show, called “Food at the Good Source” in English, is to be broadcast on CH 8 on Mediacorp, Singapore’s only television broadcasting company, next spring of 2010. The station reaches about 1 million viewers, some in nearby areas of Malaysia and Indonesia. English subtitles will expand the audience to non-Chinese speakers as well.

Host Pornsak Prajakwit is a Chinese-Thai based in Singapore.

Host Pornsak Prajakwit is a Chinese-Thai based in Singapore.

The show will start by showing an expensive food item sold in a Singapore restaurant, and will then trace the ingredients back through the processing stage to their source.

“We want to show why this food is expensive?how much effort goes into its preparation,” said Goh Djong Hoa, VP of Entertainment Products for the station.

But the show is not only aimed at the affluent. It is meant to appeal to a mass audience, and will also feature less expensive items. For example, the Kagoshima tour’s main focus was Wagyu beef, but sweet potatoes, Mandarin oranges and Shochu liquor will also be featured.

Host Pornsak Prajawit and the film crew visited a beef processing plant and a beef feedlot belonging to Minamikyushu Chikusan Kogyo Co., Ltd., also known as “Nanchiku”, a producer of Kurobuta black pork and Wagyu beef, both of which are highly marbled gourmet meats.

Singapore’s beef market was closed to Japanese beef due to bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE), but was re-opened after an agreement by the Japanese and Singaporean governments in May of 2009. Three Japanese processors were approved for beef export: Shokuniku Oroshiuri Shijo Co. Ltd., of Gunma Prefecture; Minami Kyushu Chikusan Kogyo Co. (Nanchiku), of Kagoshima Prefecture; and Ariake Meat Plant, in Kagoshima Prefecture. The beef must be boneless, born and raised in Japan, less than 30 months old, and have “risk materials” such as spinal cords removed. Now, Nanchiku is promoting in Singapore and hoping for a good market.

As incomes in Singapore are fairly high, there are plenty of people who would like to, and can afford to treat themselves to very finest in beef.

Nanchiku’s processing plant would be considered small by United States or Australian standards. Quality, not quantity, is the focus here.

The crew first visited the chiller where hanging sides were graded. Japan’s grading system is very different from that of the US. The Japanese system has five quality grades, which are based on marbling, meat color, firmness and texture, and fat quality. The highest grade is 5. There are also three yield grades, from A to C, which are determined by an equation based on four carcass measurements taken between the sixth and seventh rib bones. The highest yielding carcasses are graded “A”.

Since grading is done at the carcass stage, Wagyu meat exported to the United States, bound mainly for high-end steak houses, receives no USDA grade, though it is inspected on entry for pinholes in the vacuum bags, mislabeling, etc.

After the grading is completed, the farmers who brought their cattle for processing come into the chiller to inspect the carcasses. They are eager to compare the grader’s score with the actual carcass, to understand how to improve their herd and feeding programs.

The crew next moved to the processing line, where the sides were cut into chuck, rib and round primal cuts and these were then further cut into sub-primals, vacuum packed and boxed for shipment.

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Following the meat to its source , a Nanchiku feedlot was the next destination. The facilities resemble those of a US dairy operation, with all animals housed in shelters. There are no fenced alleyways or squeeze chutes. Castration, vaccinations and removal of horn points are outsourced to mobile operators.

“Traceability has a meaning of being able to track food in the market back to the origin, or vice-versa. Nanchiku does not use such a system. I just mean that the concept of the show is to follow the food from the plate back to the source.

The Wagyu breed is capable of much more abundant marbling than other beef cattle breeds.

The Wagyu breed is capable of much more abundant marbling than other beef cattle breeds.

The younger animals receive mainly alfalfa and oaten hay . The cattle’s diet becomes progressively richer in grain as they go through three feeding stages. The oldest animals are fed rice straw, barley bran and grains (mainly corn). Noboru Setoyama, Section Manager, said that the Chinese rice straw was being tried from this year. A probiotic supplement is also given.

The facilities resemble those of a dairy operation.

The facilities resemble those of a dairy operation.

Japanese cattle are kept calm and comfortable. There was soothing music to relax the animals; sawdust bedding for them to lie on; and fans, a mist spraying system and a roof for temperature control. Long grain feeding, a sedentary lifestyle, and the marbling ability of the breed are the keys to producing Japanese Wagyu beef.

The cellulose requirement of the diet is filled with bran and straw.

The cellulose requirement of the diet is filled with bran and straw.

Chris Loew
Chris Loew
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Chris Loew is an editor for SeafoodSource.com and Global Investing, a stock investing newsletter. Based in Osaka, Japan, he was born and raised in the USA, and has worked in a Japanese meat importing company, and as an export director for Seattle food companies.

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