Situated in mountainous Hida region in Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is best known for the main access and the closest city to Shirakawago and Gokayama, UNESCO Heritage Site listed villages known for their gassho-zukuri houses. Don’t make Takayama just a transit city, however. Spend a day or two instead, strolling around the morning markets and Sanmachi Suji, a quaint old town with beautifully preserved shop and private houses over 300 years old, made of high quality cypress and cedar wood. Everything you’re looking for is literally there along the way, from souvenirs, traditional handicrafts, jewelry stores, snack shops until a must to try signature food which is “inevitable” anywhere in Takayama: Hida beef.
What’s so particular about it?
Hida Beef comes from a black-haired cow breed grown in Gifu Prefecture for at least 14 months. It’s one of the highest quality meat, specifically the marbling. Marbling fat texture is responsible for great taste, as it protects the aroma, tenderness and juiciness of the meat from escaping.
You actually can get Hida beef anywhere in Takayama, not just the old town, but it’s an ideal way for those who don’t have much time to travel too far from the main attractions to chase the beef.
Nonetheless, if you only relate Hida beef to beef steak, you got it all wrong. Since I didn’t specialize my visit on trying all types of Hida beef dishes, I was happy enough that I managed to try 1 beef steak and 4 non-steak menus. Mostly, I had them to go to save time and money, therefore I didn’t have to sit down and get tempted with all the additional menus like sweets, shakes and fries.
a. Hida Beef Bun
At a glance, it looks like a Chinese bun or ba pao, which is true. The differences lie on the Japanese inscription on the surface of the bun and the Hida minced beef inside, not just any kind of meat. The meat sauce is probably shoyu-based, which is very common in Japan. But the juiciness of the meat is top notch, while the role of the savoury sauce is neither dominate nor conceal its real taste, except to enhance the already good quality meat.
At Kihachiro Beef Bun, you can get Kihachiro’s Beef Bun, using no other than Hida beef labelled as “premium” for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50) and it’s totally worth it. Other options are matcha and red bean bun, black sesame and red bean bun and sweet pudding.
Beef Bun and Cafe Kihachiro. 29 Kamisannomachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0846. +81 577-62-8811
b. Hida Beef Burger
It’s indeed an American style burger with beef patty made of Hida beef. So what’s so special about it, as you may ask, and I don’t blame you for that. But still, I recommend you to give some spare capacity of your tummy for this one. The size of the burger is rather smaller than usual, yet the taste of the patty is fresher and more juicy than those of McDonald’s, plus additional caramelized flavor because of the home made barbecue sauce coating its surface. Apparently, Hida beef makes ordinary food extraordinary. For ¥ 800 ($ 7.20), it’s a bit pricey because of the size, but it’s worth it.
Hanamizuki Cafe & Restaurant. 2-48 Hommachi, Takayama 506-0011, Gifu Prefecture. +81 0577 33 0123
c. Hida Beef Nigiri
My curiosity arose when I saw someone bringing sushi on a cracker plate. When I realized that it’s Hida beef sushi, I sacrificed my impatience by being in (long) line with the crowds. I ordered the basic menu, Hida Beef Nigiri ¥ 500 ($ 4.50) , as seen on the picture on hanging board.
I got 2 pieces of the Hida beef nigiri sushi placed on the rice cracker or senbei, whose sushi rice is nearly invisible (except from the sides) since each of them is covered with Hida beef slices brushed with sweet sauce on top. It’s moist, juicy with hints of blood taste since I have it medium. I love the taste although it’s a bit chewy for me. In my opinion, it’s medium rare. May be when it’s medium, it could be less chewy but still juicy. Nothing really particular about the taste of the crackers other than light savored, as it’s not expected to overpower the sushi taste. Nonetheless, it’s a unique experience to have crunchiness collides with firm and sticky sushi, which is probably not obtainable anywhere else.
You can have it with additional Hida beef maki or sushi roll besides the nigiri ones on the cracker place since its maximum capacity is 3 pieces of sushi, but of course it costs more than ¥ 500 ($ 4.50). More premium grade options could be around ¥ 700 ($ 6.30) to over ¥ 1000 ($ 9).
Sakaguchiya. 90, Kami-3-nomachi, Takayama-shi, Gifu, 506-0846.
d. Hoba Miso Beef Steak
When I was staring at clippings attached on an announcement board at Guest House Ouka, one of the guest house employees greeted me, asking me if he could help me with anything. Indeed, I was looking for a recommended Hida beef restaurant and everything written on those clippings sounded tempting. Finally, he advised me to visit Suzuya Restaurant. A lot of tourists visit it and they love it. Additionally, one of his friends work there. Okay, this could be a subjective opinion, but there was no harm to try.
I ordered its best selling menu, Hoba Miso Beef Steak Rice set. It’s the 65 gram sliced Hida beef steak grilled on hoba leaf with miso paste, mixed vegetables (shimeji, shiitake mushroom and spring onion) that comes with rice and tea for ¥ 1944 ($ 17.50). I admit, it’s an affordable rice set with quality taste. It takes 6 to 10 minutes until the meat reaches the medium level of rareness. When the tender and juicy meat blends with the lightly fermented and savory taste of miso paste, it’s fantastic!
In fact, Suzuya was the only restaurant where I dined in a complete relaxation and cozy atmosphere, without eating while walking and snapping pictures here and there. I mean, who could enjoy eat hot and sizzling grilled meat on the move? The service was excellent as the waiter, the guest house employee’s friend, was super friendly. Surprisingly, he understands a few words of Indonesian language!
Suzuya Restaurant. ２４ Hanakawamachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0015. +81 577-32-2484
e. Stewed Hida Beef
Only the A5 grade, the highest grade of Hida beef, does Rokujuban use in all the menus, from skewers to stewed beef. I took the Standard Hida Beef Stew for ¥ 800 ($ 7.20). It turns out that the soup reminds me of Hungarian goulash soup that I love so much. The only thing that disappoints me is that about 50% of its content is the fat that I dislike the texture, although it is undoubtedly contributes a lot to its rich taste. Other than that, it’s a great choice. Suppose you like poached egg in your stewed beef, just add another ¥ 100 ($ 0.90). Or, if budget is not the issue, you can try the most expensive menu, Hida Beef Stew in a sealed pouch for ¥ 1300 ($ 11.70).
If I knew that there would be a lot of fat in the stewed beef, I would rather get the skewers instead, such as Hida Beef Meatball Salt for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50), Standard A5 Loin for ¥ 600 ($ 5.40) and Special A5 Loin for ¥ 1000 ($ 9).
Perhaps, you’d like to conclude your dining experience with local sake, why not? Rokujuban offers it for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50).
In addition to those I mentioned above, other Hida beef dishes that deserve to be on your bucket list are the deep fried versions, such as Hida beef croquette and Hida beef katsu. However, I didn’t try those because I’m allergic to any kind of fried food.
Make sure you don’t leave Takayama without trying Hida beef unless you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, a pescaterian or simply not a meat lover.