Sao Mai said that the dish from raw horse meat “is not as terrible as imagined” because the Japanese have many special ways of processing.
In early 2023, Sao Mai, studying for a master’s degree at Waseda University (Tokyo), had the opportunity to enjoy raw horse meat (basashi), a famous Japanese dish. She chose the restaurant Umasakura (Uma: horse and Sakura: cherry blossom) in the southern province of Kumamoto – which is considered the hometown of raw horse meat to enjoy the best taste.
Mai said that in Japan, raw food is very popular, but not everyone has tried horse meat. Mai herself was initially “a little scared”. Since her time in Vietnam, she has had no sympathy for horse meat, let alone raw horse meat.
Mai ordered 4 dishes including yukke (raw horse meat served with raw eggs and onions), horse meat sashimi, nikuzushi (meat sushi) and horse meat pizza with drink. The total cost for the meal is about 10,000 yen per person (1.8 million VND). She considers this a reasonable cost because raw horse meat is not a common dish and the quality is impressive.
Contrary to initial thought, Mai said that on the surface, the dish is not much different from raw beef. “It’s not as horrible as I thought. After the first bite, I wanted to eat more. No unpleasant taste, fragrant and delicious. I didn’t expect raw horse meat to be so delicious,” she said.
All dishes are not seasoned to preserve the natural flavor. Yukke best represents the freshness of raw meat, combined with the richness of eggs and balance with onions. Eggs are kept cold, so when mixed with meat, it creates a cool dish. The eggs are not fishy and are obviously good because Sao Mai finds the yolk very dense.
“The meat is moderately tough, although not as tender as beef. However, once you take a bite, you will find it melts in your mouth,” she said. In terms of toughness, raw horse meat is tougher than beef but softer than fish.
In addition, the restaurant also has many variations to make it easier for diners to enjoy such as sushi, pizza. Sao Mai shared that she only knew raw fish sushi before and never thought about eating raw horse meat with sushi. However, this combination is also quite interesting.
With sashimi, the piece of meat when eaten does not have the feeling of being fishy, but it is richer than fish, with a nice fatty vein. Thanks to this layer of fat, the meat is tender and almost melts in the mouth. In addition, the shop also serves horse meat sushi with seaweed and sea urchin. The combination of the fresh and pure taste of raw meat and the saltiness from seaweed, sea urchin brings an “unforgettable experience” with Sao Mai.
The dishes are served with Japanese soy sauce to enhance the flavor. She shared that she likes the taste of raw meat, but these dishes are not easy to prepare at home. On the other hand, not every place has a chef good enough to handle delicate flavors like at Umasakura.
“I haven’t tried all the dishes on the menu, but all the dishes I ordered are delicious no matter how they are prepared. Everyone should try them if they have a chance to come to Kumamoto,” she said.
Sao Mai said some people may have an allergic reaction or stomach upset after eating these raw foods. Therefore, the advice is that diners need to choose the restaurant carefully or go to an allergist if they want to try these dishes.
In Japan, besides Kumamoto, other prefectures such as Nagano, Oita or Tohoku region are also famous places for raw horse meat specialties. In particular, Kumamoto is the largest consumer of horse meat in Japan, and is mainly imported from Canada. Currently, some restaurants are modified to make it easier for foreign diners to enjoy.