Hida Beef at Maruaki, Takayama, Japan

You’ll likely have heard of Japan’s wagyu (beef).

Wagyu refers to several Japanese breeds of cattle, the most famous of which is the Japanese Black. Wagyu are genetically predisposed to yield a high percentage of fat, and their meat is known and prized for its intense marbling. In Japan, the best wagyu is often labelled according to its area of origin; Kobe beef is probably the best known of these outside of Japan.

Until I started researching our trip, I hadn’t come across Hida Beef, one of the most prized beef brands in Japan. Raised in Gifu Prefecture, cattle must be at least 14 months old and the beef must be checked for quality and grade by both the Hida Beef Brand Promotion Conference and the Japan Meat Grading Association. Beef that does not make the grade is not sold under the Hida Beef label.

Locals suggest the superiority of Hida Beef is down to a single bull named Yasufukugo. Although he died nearly 20 years ago, Yasufukugo sired many thousands of calves; more recently, he has successfully been cloned from frozen cells; his genetic heritage lives on in the continued excellence of Hida Beef.

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Before leaving home, I tried to do a little research into Hida Beef restaurants in Takayama, indeed I even asked our ryokan owner to make a reservation for us in one that I saw recommended on Chowhound. However, on arrival, we realised that the location was not ideal, and that there were a great many options in our little neighbourhood. We asked our ryokan host to make a recommendation instead and she said that although she hadn’t visited very many of the restaurants serving Hida Beef, she and her extended family had recently very much enjoyed a celebratory family meal at nearby Maruaki restaurant. What’s more, it was less expensive than the place we had originally considered. Sold!

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Takayama draws many tourists, and Maruaki is on one of the main roads in the centre of town, so we were not surprised that they had English translations on the menu.

As the menu explained, only beef ranked at quality levels 3 to 5 may be labelled as Hida Beef. The standard plate consisted of ranks 3 and 4, with the premium plate offering rank 5 only. (Ranks 1 and 2 are not sold under the Hida Beef brand, but as regular beef).

We chose the standard Hida Beef plate featuring 300 grams of different cuts of beef, and a small serving of vegetables. We figured we’d quickly get through 300 grams, and could order an individual dish of one cut of Hida Premium Beef afterwards.

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In the end, we were so blown away by the standard Hida Beef, that we really didn’t feel we could be any happier with the next grade up, which was more than twice as expensive. We bought an additional 100 grams of standard Hida Beef sirloin and savoured every bite.

Go on, look again at that incredible marbling! People often describe tender meat as “melt in the mouth”, but never has that phrase been truer than for these morsels; the meat just disintegrated on the tongue releasing a really fantastic flavour.

Each table features a round charcoal grill, on which diners cook their own meal, at their own pace. Clever venting means the smoke is drawn away, so there’s no unpleasant smokiness in the room. Metal tongs are provided for cooking, and wooden chopsticks for eating, though we kept forgetting, and reaching for the grill with our chopsticks.

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Alongside our beef, we ordered an extra round of vegetables, which consisted of cabbage, onion, mushrooms, a slice of sweet pumpkin and a couple of jet black peppers. From the shape, I assumed the black peppers were chillies, but they were mild, like sweet peppers, with no heat at all. If you know the variety, do please let me know! Cabbage is a little strange cooked on a grill, but seems to be the most common offering, as we discovered when dining at other yakiniku restaurants during our trip. We also ordered a side of noodles in broth, which were inexpensive and tasty.

We ate well throughout our trip, but still I’ve been dreaming about the Hida Beef ever since Takayama!

Address: 6 Tenmanmachi, Takayama
Telephone:+81 577-35-5858

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16 Comments to "Hida Beef at Maruaki, Takayama, Japan"

  1. meemalee

    We were with a vegetarian when we went to Takayama so passed on the beef but wished we hadn’t – the queues of excited people were huge at every beef place we saw.

    Mind you, wherever we had beef in Japan, it was marbled a little and so tender. I swear even the burgers were better than anywhere else.

    Incidentally, Wagyu literally means Japanese (Wa) beef (gyu) ^_^

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Aah. A shame but you can go without the veggie next time.
    And, thank you for translation! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Halima

    Could you please tell me how much you paid for the Hida beef dinner at Maruaki? Besides, for my first visit to Tokyo around 30 years ago I had a dinner at a restaurant called Sarena near Ginza station where we had very nice beef cooked by ourselves on a piece of extremely hot stone. I still remembered that the meal came with a glass of fresh milk which tasted fantastic too. However, last year I visited Tokyo again and found Sarena was not selling beef cooked by customers on hot stone anymore. Do you have any clue where I can find a similar restaurant in Japan now? Thank you in advance.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Can’t recall exact bill but if you check menu pictures they show prices, to give you an idea.

    We also had yakiniku in two other places in Tokyo and Kyoto. These restaurants are wide spread and often not very expensive. This one was more because of type of beef.

    They are often refereed to as Korean bbq.

    Reply
  3. jonathan

    Cheaper option is to buy at takayama grocery and cook it youself. Cost 9000 yen per kg.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, indeed, but we were not staying in self-catering accommodation (and didn’t want to, for this portion of our trip) and were specifically looking for a hida beef restaurant on this occasion. It’s certainly cheaper to buy and cook but sometimes that is not what one is seeking! 🙂

    Reply
  4. Patricia Brogan

    Hi kaveyeats, I spent 2 nights in Takayama last year and ate at a similiar place, it may have even been this one, it was wonderful – and affordable! This year I am going to Japan again but won’t be stopping in Takayama – I’ve been looking for somewhere else like this but when I read about the “korean bbq’s” I don’t feel they are the same, they don’t have this authenticity: do you know of any places where I can replicate this experience. I am taking in Kyoto, Tokyo, Yokohama, Hikone on the Biwa Lake, Nara and the Wakayama Prefecture?

    Apparently Hongu has special beef like this – but where to eat it there? (this is just an aside, what I want is to replicate this experience with this level of beef at these prices anywhere where I am going – would appreciate any help?)

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Hi Patricia, lovely to hear from you.
    I understand what you mean about that place where it was all about the high quality local wagyu. It’s true that most Korean BBQ places aren’t quite so focused on that, especially as many of them are chain restaurants that cater to a lower price point. That said, we did enjoy the Gyu-Kaku chain of Korean yakiniku restaurants, and the marbled beef there was still very good, even if it didn’t match the Hida beef we loved at Maruaki. You can find some photos of that beef in my post about Yakiniku restaurants in Japan.
    In Kyoto, we also enjoyed a Korean place recommended by our hotel, which had a good reputation for the quality of its food, called Yakiniku Hiro. I think it’s part of a small group of 4 or 5 restaurants in kyoto.
    We haven’t yet made it to Kobe on any of our three trips to Japan, but I am confident there are restaurants there specialising in the Kobe brand of wagyu, but I think they’ll be a bit more than those in Takayama, because Kobe is better marketed internationally and can perhaps command more of a premium because of it.

    Reply

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