Japanese are sometimes baffled by the worldwide acclaim that “Kobe Beef” gets. Sure, there’s great beef in Kobe, but what is referred to as “Kobe Beef” is just one variety of wagyu (pronounced “wah-gyuu”). Strictly speaking, since wagyu literally means “Japanese beef,” the moniker wagyu simply means that the beef is of domestic production. In practice, however, wagyu equates to a very different looking and tasting beef from most of the beef produced outside of Japan.
When it comes to prime cuts of beef, it always has been, and always will be, about the marbling. Lean beef is lower in fat and therefore may be healthier than more marbled cuts of beef, but as far as wagyu lovers are concerned, the most evident thing about lean beef is that it is bereft of taste and decidedly chewy. The Japanese term “shimofuri,” used with respect to beef, perfectly sums up what many hold dear as the perceived ideal. Shimofuri literally means a (snow) frosting, which is exactly how a well-marbled piece of wagyu should look. Instead of red, the meat should be more of a pink. Instead of thick veins of fat running through helter-skelter, the lines of fat should be thin and evenly distributed.
One thing you’re not going to want to do — even if you could, taking into account the high prices it commands — is to eat a giant portion of wagyu. All that marbling (=fat) makes for a melt in your mouth experience, but is a very rich experience. It is for precisely this reason that prime wagyu is often sliced very thinly and eaten in the yakiniku or shabu shabu styles. Some cuts are also popular with the high-rolling yakiniku crowd, but be prepared to drop cash for the treat!
However you slice it, wagyu is decadently delicious. If you find yourself in Japan, you should not pass up the opportunity to give it a try!