2017/03/09 What's On
Most Expensive Japanese Food
by Jordan Mounteer
Japanese food is unique in many ways, both in terms of its historical and cultural importance, but also just in terms of process, preparation, and taste. In fact, so much so, that it’s earned a place on UNESCO’S Intangible Heritage list. At the same time, while everyone can enjoy staples like ramen, gyoza, or sushi, Japan is also famous for having some of the most expensive food in the world. We take a look at some of the more unique foods that are bound to put a dent in your wallet.
Who’d of thought milk would be so expensive? But the Nakazawa brand milk is an incredible $43 a quart – why, you ask? The cows that produce the coveted milk are milked once a month very early at dawn when they are theoretically at their most restful and produce more melatonin, a hormone that is said to lower stress levels. The health benefits of drinking milk from relaxed cows seems dubious, but if you have $43 to spare, it might be a fun experiment.
There are actually four different types of wagyu beef, each respectively named after the location that it is harvested, but perhaps one of the most famous in this regard is Kobe beef. The four types – black, brown, polled, and shorthorn – are famous in Japan for their distinctive marbling which is attributed to oleaginous fat deposits, and contributes to a very cream texture that draws as much attention as it does wealthy patrons wanting to experience a classic yakiniku meal. Ironically, these higher deposits of unsaturated fats are actually shown to be healthier overall, so it’s just another reason that Kobe beef has such a distinguished reputation. A good wagyu steak can easily set you back several thousand dollars, and can be served in a variety of ways, and although yakiniku (or grilled) might be the favorite, it’s also possible to find it as sashimi and shabu shabu. Only 3000 or so of these cattle are actually classified as Kobe every year, so if you have the money to spare, why not treat yourself?
Another favorite, especially among first-time tourists to Tokyo, is fugu – also known as pufferfish. The popular beliefs surrounding this unusual seafood entrée have a kernel of truth to them. Pufferfish contains a natural poison called tetrodotoxin that is deadly to humans and can cause paralysis. As a result, Japan has very high standards for this meal and chefs can only be allowed to serve it after having spent upwards of four years learning the craft, which involves specific ways of preparing and treating the fish to avoid contaminating the fish with the toxin. At the same time, there are occasional deaths attributed to this dangerous food, and the first thing fugu connoisseurs will notice when they take a bite is a numbing of their mouth and tongue, which is due to trace amounts of tetrodotoxin. A meal will set you back anywhere from $50 to $200.
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Although the genus of these mushrooms are actually found throughout Europe and North America as well, the most prized species are in Asia – and more specifically, in Japan. These iconic and earthy looking mushrooms have a very thick white stalk and a small brown protuberance, and have long been a staple of expensive exotic restaurants. There is usually around one thousand pounds of this mushrooms harvested annually, and depending on the quality – which can be affected by temperature, weather, and animal predation – the prices can rise and dip and fluctuate quite a bit, going as low as $2 a pound, all the way up to $1000. One of the more popular dishes for these fungi are in traditional nabe or hot pots along with noodles and vegetables, although there are plenty of matsutake lovers who like them raw or grilled.
Yubari King Melons
All the way in Japan’s northernmost province of Hokkaido are grown perhaps the world’s most expensive fruit. The Yubari King breed of cantaloupes are grown just outside of Sapporo, and have long been prized for their distinct shape and taste. This single cultivar produces melons who can sell for upwards of 3 million yen – that’s $30,000! The best melons are those that are perfectly round and ripe and have a smoothness to them. Why are these so expensive? Well, a lot has to do simply with the fact that to be called a Yubari melon they have to be grown by a specific grower in that region, and they only produce a limited number of melons each year, so it’s a bit of a status symbol in this regard. All the same, you can find lower quality melons for $100 if you want to feel like a high roller.
On the topic of melons, visitors to Japan will also notice seasonal appearances of square melons. While there’s no real secret to this variety of normal melons, the way in which they are grown – using casts to alter their shapes – produces perfectly square fruit which can easily be sold for upwards of $800. Just goes to show that aesthetic can be an important variable among consumers.
Another quirky fruit option, the black Densuke melon which is also grown in Hokkaido is a bit of an oddity in the natural world, and has been carefully domesticated to produce fully black melons (don’t worry, it’s just the rind), but these collector’s item produce can set you back $6000 per piece for a 15 kilogram globe. They’re said to be extremely crisp and juicy, and since only 10,000 are produced (or at least sold) every year there’s a certain demand for them among the elite.
Also known as maguro, or salmon, toro refers to the choice part of the fish’s belly which is exceptionally creamy and tasty and is definitely one of the more expensive ingredients you can ask to have served on your sushi. There are actually two types of toro classified as either chutoro or otoro. The first is the thin cut that is right below the side of the fish, where the leaner meat is located (and is what you usually get if you ask for maguro at a restaurant). Although not as fatty, it is sometimes preferred over the otoro which is the very bottom of the belly and is sometimes so thick with fat that it is famously delicate and likely to fall apart in your mouth.
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