Sunday, February 26, 2012

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Week Eight : Uma Uma Yay

This week came with some great news for my future, but also means that my Great Japan Adventure will only last for a few more months. I really want to make the most of that time and squeeze in some really great experiences while I can.

In that spirit, I found myself on a lunch date at Nakae. Located just north-east of Ueno in the Minowa neighborhood since 1905, the building has been declared a cultural treasure by the city of Tokyo. It's incredibly rare to find original wooden buildings that survived the many fires that have ravished Tokyo over the years, much less the fire bombings in World War II, so it really is something special.


Nakae specializes in a dish called Sakura-Nabe that you won't find too often, even here in Japan. "Sakura" is the Japanese word for cherry blossoms and "Nabe" is Japanese-style hotpot, but if you come expecting cutesy flower garnished dishes you're in for a surprise. You see, sakura-niku ("niku" means meat) is another name for horse meat.

Nakae's specialty is, therefore, horse meat and it is some seriously good stuff. Throw away your prejudices and try it - you won't regret it.

The lunch course kicks off with small side dishes of horse sashimi and horse tartar. Half of you are probably squirming in your seats as you read this thinking "Is he really going to eat that?!" and I can assure you I most certainly did. The horse sashimi, served with thin-sliced onions and ginger soy sauce is as delicate as any fish and yet incredibly satisfying. The tartar, mixed with a quail egg and a little soy sauce and sesame oil, is silky smooth.

But the real star of the show is the sakura-nabe, which is actually more like sukiyaki than nabe. The broth starts off a slightly disturbing dark shade of red a little reminiscent of blood, but quickly takes on a much more pleasing color once heat is applied and a little bit of red miso gets mixed in. You let this boil away happily until everything has just cooked through and then dip the contents into a raw scrambled egg to eat. This is the kind of hearty warm food that I love during Japanese winters. Warms your soul a bit really.

Once you've eaten most of the contents, the dish is "closed" with the left over raw egg. We added an extra egg, which had a gorgeous orange yolk. That egg gets cook just enough to firm up a bit, during which it sucks up all that delicious broth, and is eaten over rice.

Horse meat is by no means a typical food here in Japan, but I've gotta say I wouldn't mind eating more of it. Apparently horse actually has less calories and fat than beef but more protein, so it's not a bad choice from a health perspective either. Finding a butcher that carries it might prove something of a challenge though...

**"Uma" is the Japanese word for "Horse", hence the title of this post**

Camera Info: Canon 7D | 35mm | f/ 3.2 | ISO 1600 | 1/20 s


  1. sounds like an amazing experience, sadly I never got to see any of those old buildings when visiting Tokyo. Not sure if I could stomach RAW horse meat, though.

  2. Nice post! Does this mean you know where you're going to end up?! We gotta Skype soon bro.