Sendai, Miyagi: Original Home of Gyutan
What do Japanese people envisage when asked about Sendai in Miyagi prefecture? My prediction for the most common answer would be “gyutan” or grilled beef tongue. Gyutan is literally translated as cow tongue in Japanese. As a dish, gyutan was popularized in Sendai in 1948 by Keishiro Sano. A Japanese restaurant chef specializing in yakitori, Sano founded a gyutan restaurant called Aji-Tasuke.
After the Pacific War, there was a period of confusion when the city of Sendai was full of unemployed people facing chronic food shortages. War widows were opening restaurants here and there in the city. Yakitori restaurants with their grilled dishes were easy to open and were well received by the mass population. During those days, food was scarce, and yakitori restaurants served not only chicken, but also pork, beef, and many other ingredients.
Sano, an expert in Japanese cuisine, was well aware that the cooking technique of yakitori is relatively simple so that his original skewers could be easily copied by other competing restaurants. He started looking for something novel and more difficult to imitate.
While still in his twenties, Sato became fascinated by the texture of beef tongue while enjoying stew prepared by a French chef. The tasty beef tongue stew, however, took four days to cook and Sano realized it was not suitable for a restaurant focusing on grilled dishes. Thus, began the trial and error process of seasoning, cutting, and cooking that eventually resulted in an attractive dish for Japanese taste. Gradually, Sato’s creative concept gained popularity throughout Japan and grilled gyutan is now recognized as a representative dish of Sendai.
Typically, gyutan is served with barley rice, pickles and tail soup.
Be sure to try gyutan if you ever visit Sendai!