Trends in Japan > J-food > Kobe, Culinary Gateway To The West
Cakes and Bread Spread to Japan via Vibrant Port City
(February 5, 2008)

Weathercock House, one of the Western-style houses to be found in Kobe.


Kobe Municipal Fruit & Flower Park.

January 1, 2008 marked the 140th anniversary of the opening of Kobe's port to the outside world. Kobe today is a cosmopolitan city boasting both the natural beauty of the Rokko mountains and the refined scenery of its portside district. Since Kobe's port opened in 1868, the city has assimilated many aspects of foreign culture, lending it a charm all its own. The original foreign settlement of Kobe had been a desolate area before foreign merchants began living there. From its humble beginnings, Kobe has transformed into a modern and vibrant metropolis of 1.5 million inhabitants with a diverse food culture featuring Western dishes and confectionery and Chinese cuisine.


A steak of Kobe beef.

The Birthplace of Japanese Beef
Kobe beef is known the world over. The exact origins of Kobe beef are uncertain; what is known, however, is that on January 24, 1872, Emperor Meiji was served beef and that this prompted the spread of beef to the dinner tables of ordinary families. Kobe beef is produced in the Tajima region, located in the northernmost part of Hyogo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital city. Only beef that conforms to the strictest standards is certified as Kobe Beef, often described as "marbled beef" due to the fine, marbled patterns of fat that characterize its appearance. When cooked, this fine web of fat melts, softening the surrounding muscle tissue to yield a succulent flavor and texture.



Although the traditional way to enjoy Kobe Beef is as a steak, the most common way for families in Japan to eat the delicacy is in sukiyaki. This is especially the case in the Kansai region of Japan, where thin slices of the meat are first cooked in a cast-iron pan, then vegetables including Chinese cabbage and white leeks are added. The dish is flavored with sugar and soy sauce. Sake is sometimes also added to give the dish a fuller flavor. Sukiyaki is a particular favorite during the winter months, when it is great for warming up on cold days.

Another mouth-watering dish in which Kobe beef is often used is shabushabu. To make shabushabu, a kelp-based broth is brought to a boil in a pot; thinly-sliced beef is then briefly dunked in the hot broth. The beef is then eaten after being dipped in ponzu sauce (a mixture of citrus juices, vinegar, and soy sauce).


Inside the Freundlieb restaurant. (C)Freundlieb


Baumkuchen made by Juchheim. (C)Juchheim Co., Ltd.

A Taste of the West
Kobe is also known throughout Japan as the place where delicious Western cakes and sweets were introduced by foreign residents of Kobe and passengers on ships visiting the city's port. It was in 1897, during these early days, that the pioneering Kobe Fugetsudo first opened as an authentic Western-style confectionery shop in the Motomachi area of Kobe. It still operates today from the original location and remains ever-popular with locals and visitors alike. It sells Kobe's signature confectionery, Gaufre, an elegant sweet made with crisp, fragrant, thin wafer-like cookies with vanilla, strawberry and other cream fillings in the middle.


The Kobe Portopia Hotel. (C) Kobe Portopia Hotel


Kobe at night.

Freundlieb, a German bakery and restaurant that opened for business in 1924, is another must-try in Kobe. It is so well known that when you mention "bread" in Kobe, many Kobe residents immediately think of Freundlieb. If you should visit Freundlieb, be sure to try the highly recommended homemade roast beef sandwiches in the historic renovated church that houses the restaurant. Around the same time that Freundlieb was established, a small cafe run by Juchheim opened its doors in Kobe. Juchheim today is a company known nationwide for its Baumkuchen (a vertically layered German cake). Also based in Kobe are the renowned chocolate makers Goncharoff and Morozoff, which were originally established in Kobe by two Russian exiles, Feodor Morozoff and Makar Goncharoff, the latter of whom had been a confectioner for the Romanov dynasty before fleeing the Russian Revolution. No visitor to Kobe should leave without sampling Morozoff's flan with its rich, thick custard.

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