Meat Eats: Butaniku Pork, Venison, Wild Boar and Horse

Buta is the pig, butaniku is pork. Eaten in Japan since the Edo period, the Yorkshire, Berkshire and Hampshire breeds of pig are preferred. In Okinawa the ears are served as a delicacy mimigaa while in Kyushu the carcass is especially prized for the tonkotsu pork broth ramen noodles from Hakata/Fukuoka.  More generally, however, it is eaten as tonkatsu pork cutlets, in pork shabu-shabu, stewed, or served on rice as katsudon. It is also made into a splendid soup, called tonjiru or butajiru.

Pork Ramen Charshiu ramen

Pork is the ingredient of choice in the hugely popular nimono dish niku jaga, but only in East Japan. In the West they use beef. Pork atop ramen noodles is called charshiu, and ramen with extra pork on top is charshiumen.

The Iberico puro, an import from Spain has recently proven popular in upscale pork specialist restaurants. Tokyo-X, Kagoshima Kurobuta black pork, Yamagata’s Hiraboku Sangenton, Gunma’s Akagi pork, Niigata’s Echigo Ajiwai pork and Yamanashi’s Fuji Sakura are just some of the many acclaimed local specialities.

Shika & Inoshishi Venison & Wild Boar

In ancient times, there was a strong taboo against consuming venison as the deer was traditionally considered a messenger of the gods. Fortune telling mystics would be invited to the Imperial Court, then in Nara, to predict the future by interpreting the patterns on charred deer antlers. This is why, even now, Nara’s Kasuga shrine is famously surrounded by the wandering beasts.

venison porkThat said, non-believer rural hunters have long hunted deer (the male of the species only). Its best season is thought to be late summer and autumn, when the light, subtle-tasting red meat is served as sashimi, roast, or in shikaniku nabe hotpot. Shiga Prefecture’s Hira Sanso serves top grade venison once the ayu sweetfish season is finished.

Meat-hungry Buddhists of the Nara period came up with a novel idea to circumnavigate the recent prohibition against eating four-legged creatures. They decided shika deer and inoshishi wild boar were actual misplaced sea mammals. Thus, deer and wild boar became yamakujira ‘mountain whales’.

Astonishingly, nobody battered an eye-lid at this blatant, piece of linguistic jiggery-pokery. Today, wild boar is most often used in botan nabe wild-boar hotpot, the meat’s strong smell lessened by being stewed in miso. Kumogahata in Kyoto, Sasayama in Hyogo, Asakumayama in Ehime, and Izu’s Amagiyama in Shizuoka are famed for their inoshishi ryori boar cuisine. It is at its best from November to March.

Venison carpaccio. Deer hunted in the Summer are the tastiest.

Venison carpaccio. Deer hunted in the Summer are the tastiest.

In most Japanese rural towns you’ll find a place specializing in roshi ryori, hunter cuisine. Given the country’s very strict gun control laws, even for hunting, I was curious about who actually goes through the lengthy process to get hunting permits. The answer seems to be farmers and enthusiasts, but professional hunters tend to be on a fast track for one very simple reason: they are former marksmen from the Japan Self Defence Force.

Uma Horse

Hardly eaten outside Yamanashi, Nagano and especially Kumamoto Prefectures horse meat is most often found raw as basashi, or in nabemono, when it is generally called sakura-niku ‘cherry meat’ or ketobashi. Mare’s meat is sad to be best. In addition to raising its own horses for consumption, Japan also imports live animals from Canada, Italy, Mexico and Brazil. It seems there is little or no opposition to the practise from animal rights groups.

John F. Ashburne

John F. Ashburne

Editor-in-Chief Foodies Go Local