Beef is a controversial subject in India, no matter how delectable some might find it.
And when it's Kobe beef, the highest and most expensive variety from Japan, five-star hotel chains and swish restaurants have managed to weave a mystery around the dish, leaving diners and connoisseurs guessing on the legality of placing that piece of red meat on the plate.
Even as many of these were known to serve Kobe beef till very recently, chains spoken to by Business Standard denied they ever sold that variety. Or, for the matter, any beef.
Now, to the disappointment of Kobe beef enthusiasts, their favourite steak is off the menus of several hotel chains. Wasabi restaurant at the Taj Mansingh in Delhi is one. While Leela Hotels maintained it did not serve beef, the menu of its Japanese restaurant includes Wagyu steak, another beef variety, also from Japan. Oberoi Hotel also said while they got a lot of enquiries for Kobe, they did not serve it.
Most five-star hotel chains, including the Taj group, refused to comment on the issue of serving beef or Kobe beef.
The variety gets its name from a region in Japan called Kobe. A kilo of this will set you back by around Rs 22,000. Wagyu is considered a notch lower and costs a bit less, too.
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While no reason was given by hotel companies, there are many explanations offered by those in the food and beverage sector for hotels staying away from beef, especially Kobe. The ministry of commerce lists 'meat from bovine' animals in the restricted category and there has been no change in the rules in recent years. Kobe beef export from Japan is officially banned, except to Hong Kong and Macau.
"There have always been restrictions on beef imports in India. As for Kobe beef, it is so expensive that only very high-end buyers can even think of getting it," said a head chef of an international hotel chain.
He said as the cost was high and demand very little, it was not a sustainable option for restaurants, explaining why it was not readily available. But that's only half the reason, as hotel executives go on the defensive even at the mention of the name.
A hotel executive said, "It is not legal to import Kobe from Japan to India. Anyone who sells it is either faking it or has got it illegally."
For Kobe, the cattle is treated to a lavish lifestyle. "Traditionally, the cattle is kept in shade and splashed with sake (rice wine). Soothing music is also played and then it is massaged to relax the muscles," said Tanveer Kwatra, executive sous chef at Pullman, Gurgaon.
With imitations of its exclusive beef variety being passed off as Kobe, Japan had stopped its exports, experts said. "The Japanese don't appreciate if anything is sold in the name of highly-graded Kobe beef. Customers also are well travelled and know better than to be fooled," said a senior hotel executive, who did not wish to be named.