I believe everyone who loves travel will usually make it their mission to try the local dishes of the places they visit. If you visit Sendai, there is one special dish that you simply cannot leave until you try: Gyutan (牛タン)!
Gyutan is a dish made from beef tongue, the word Gyu (牛) is the Japanese word for beef and tan (タン) is adapted from the English word tongue; and the dish is as simple as its name!
Gyutan was first served in Japan in 1948, in the early days post-world-war-II. Beef tongue (or beef in general) was not commonly eaten at this time. Post-war Japan was a tough place for many, and some believe the origin of ‘Gyutan’ was from locals cooking the tongue for US Army leftover! But NO, this is not actually true. It is true that food was not in abundance but it was simple dishes like grilled chicken (yakitori) which were the most popular. One local Sendai chef, Mr. Keishiro Sano of ‘Tasuke’ restaurant wanted to create a dish that was unique and different to everyday fare. He and his culinary wizard friends came up with an idea to make a dish from beef tongue; a good idea, right? Except that, as it was not regularly eaten, no store could provide him with tongue and no one really knew how to cook it! So he visited farm after local farm and their slaughter houses to stock-up on the underappreciated tongue and began experimenting with how to cook it! In my opinion, it takes some serious talent to know how to cook tongue properly – it is difficult to cook tongue with is both tender and not smelly from overcooking.
After much trial and error and hard work, Mr. Sano finally discovered an effective method of cooking; one which is still used to this day. The Gyutan you will find in Sendai tastes juicer and is more tender than any form of tongue you will ever try – nothing beats it!!
One beef tongue weighs approximately 1.5kg, but only half of the tongue is used to make the famous Gyutan dish. The method of preparing the meat before cooking is very important and can take years and years of practice before perfection! Before cooking, the Gyutan meat needs to be ‘ripened’, which differentiates it from more common ways of cooking ordinary grilled, salted beef tongue. The ripening method is different from one restaurant to the next. Some even compare the ripening method to the art of making Japanese Sake (it is very complicated and requires immense skill and technique to produce the right balance). There is even kind of sake made especially to enjoy with Gyutan, called ‘Korezeppin’ (これぜっぴん). I haven’t tried it yet, but the two are said to complement each other perfectly!
You can find Gyutan restaurants all over Sendai City. There is a whole block full of Gyutan restaurants, “Gyutan Dori” (or Gyutan alley) located on the 3rd floor of Sendai Station. Usually it is served together with oxtail soup and barley rice to balance the fats the beef tongue contains. Sendai Gyutan is famous throughout Japan and is Sendai’s ‘omiyage’ (local souvenir) of choice! As such there is also a whole range of tasty snacks made from Gyutan – the Gyutan Jerky is my favorite!
Have you tasted Gyutan yet? If not, come to Sendai and try it for yourself!
1,500 – 2,200 JYP (Gyutan set); 380 JPY (Gyutan Jerky snacks)