Kyushu island has offered you regional foods and you have partaken, but now you are looking for something unique. Something you can tell others back home that makes you sound worldly, or even like something out of one of those Food Network shows where they eat exotic foods. So why not try something unique that Kyushu is famous for?
Horse sashimi (刺身) is thinly sliced, raw horse meat. Also known as basashi (馬刺し) or sakura niku (桜肉) – which translates to cherry meat (because of its pink colour) – it is something one can consider a delicacy and unique in the sense that Japanese people don’t eat it daily. A Kyushu specialty, it is neither a common staple here along the likes of rice or tofu, nor something I have seen that is mass marketed at a fast food place (try our new horse burger!) or seen in Japanese tourism material. Not to mention, based on my interactions with others around the world, most were surprised that horse meat was even served in Japan. In fact, I was taken aback when I heard horse meat was served in Kyushu; I had associated it with Belgium (paardenrookvlees) and Italy (pastissada) as I lived in both of those places.
I know you are probably thinking “there is no way am I eating raw meat,” but hear me out. It’s not going to make you sick or have food poisoning. Get out of the Western mindset of raw meat equals a trip to the ER with E. Coli. I assume you have had raw fish, so it’s not much of a leap from fish sashimi to horse sashimi, in my opinion. Even if the above still has not convinced you, at least try it cooked as a dish called baniku (馬肉). The texture will be a little different from sashimi (it felt a little on the stringy side) and if you didn’t know it was horse you might not notice. I felt cooked horse was slightly similar to a mild version of venison, but your palate may differ. Simple yet delicious.
I openly admit I am no award winning food critic. Though I am borderline picky (although I’ll try any food once), after getting over the whole “I am eating Black Beauty or Mister Ed” feeling I was ready to order. Oh, be sure to ask if you can get the sashimi cut thin as the thicker the cut the more chewy it will be. The price was about 500 yen (about $4.00 USD) for the portion size seen in the photo above. I also highly recommend getting a side of sake to compliment it. I prefer my sake warm when eating horse sashimi, but I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.
After receiving the plate I took a deep breath and ate it. I was pleasantly surprised as there was no strong aftertaste nor did I feel I had to quickly slug down alcohol to counteract the taste. I felt it was not as gamey as I assumed it would be. It also was soft and not tough like some cuts of meat. I felt the sauce (a ginger soy-based sauce) somewhat enhanced the flavour of the meat, but I don’t think it was necessary to enjoy the horse sashimi. I won’t say the Kyushu dish ranks up there with the likes of Kobe beef, but it’s worth the 500 yen and the experience. It’s not something I would eat daily, and more along the lines of something I order when I feel like something different or adventurous.
Have you tried horse sashimi? If so feel free to post your opinion and restaurant recommendation(s) in the comments below. The horse sashimi is a local speciality in Kumamoto prefecture.