Many restaurants in Singapore claim to have Wagyu beef, but you’re probably just getting overpriced steak instead of the real thing.
There are a lot of restaurants in Singapore that claim to serve Wagyu beef, but chances are the minority have told the truth. Wagyu imports are rare in Singapore, and the word is often just an excuse to justify higher prices.
Here’s why it’s so hard to get the real thing, and how food suppliers and restaurants are confusing so many Singaporeans.
What is Wagyu?
Wagyu refers to the beef from cattle raised in Japan. In order to be Wagyu, the beef must come from one of four breeds: the Japanese Black, the Japanese Brown, the Japanese Shorthorn, and the Japanese Polled. Cross-breeds between these four are also called Wagyu.
Wagyu meat is famed for its flavour and texture. An even higher grade of Wagyu, called Kobe, is known for its even dispersal of fat (the “marbling”). It is so rare that only 3,000 to 4,000 cattle a year are Kobe.
You will instantly know when Kobe is fake. If it’s priced at anything less than S$1,500 per kilo, it’s not real Kobe!
However, true Wagyu doesn’t just come from the breed. It is necessary for the cattle to be born and raised in Japan. This is because everything from the cattle feed to the water quality contribute to the flavour of the beef. The Japanese Black and Japanese Brown, for instance, can also be found in other countries, but true beef experts will know the taste is not the same.
True Wagyu Versus Other Types of Wagyu
Many restaurants in Singapore claim to serve Wagyu beef. However, even a cursory check will show that most of our meat imports >are from Brazil and Australia. The next biggest importers of beef are the United States, and sometimes the United Kingdom. The amount of beef imports from Japan is extremely small.
By logical conclusion, we can see that it’s impossible for Singapore to have hundreds of restaurants that all serve Wagyu. Most of the time, these restaurants serve Australian or American Wagyu. This term makes very little sense, given that Wagyu translates to “Japanese cow.”
How Can You Tell Real Wagyu From Fake?
You can tell the difference between real Wagyu and fake ones, based on a number of giveaway signs:
- The cut of meat used
- The treatment of the meat
- The impact after the first bite
Even if it’s not Kobe standard, real Wagyu is much more costly than regular beef. We don’t want to endorse anyone with names, but we can tell you that there are at least two restaurants that serve real Wagyu: one in Marina Bay Sands, and another at Pasar Bella in Turf City. In both cases, you would be hard pressed to get a 16 oz. Wagyu steak for less than S$80.
In light of that, it’s improbable that a S$25 burger or a piece of meat on top of spaghetti at a pasta diner is going to be “real Wagyu”. More than likely, you are just buying a better-branded hamburger or plate of pasta.
Remember, wordplay is easy. “Real” Wagyu can just as easily mean “real Australian Wagyu”.
2. The Cut of Meat Used
Real Wagyu meat is often served as a ribeye. In almost every case, the cut will be boneless. Almost no one ever serves a T-bone Wagyu because the main point is to get at the well-marbled beef.
Cheaper cuts, like skirt steaks and Sirloins, are also more rarely seen. When a restaurant serves the best meat, they typically want to sell the best cuts of it as well. There’s a logic behind this, and it involves how the least used muscles in a cow are the best and most tender. For more details, ask your local butcher.
3. The Treatment of the Meat
Real Wagyu will not be offered to you well-done, and the restaurant would be appalled at the thought. Well-done is a polite term for “overcooked”, and it is used for cheap cuts of meat in order to disguise the taste.
Cheap meat often tastes “gamey” or liver-like, so it is cooked to the point where the diner can’t taste how bad it is.
Likewise, real Wagyu seldom comes slathered in overpowering sauces. If half a pot of black pepper sauce has been poured on the meat, there’s a good chance it’s not Wagyu (or it’s Wagyu being wasted by a bad cook).
4. The Impact After the First Bite
Real Wagyu tastes best on the first bite, when the fat coats the tongue. Subsequent bites, while still delicious, don’t seem to taste as good as the first.
If you are buying meats from a butcher or grocer, and they claim it’s real Wagyu, you can always ask to see certification. There is usually documentary proof as to the source of the meat. Have a look at it, and check it online.
Use the Right Credit Card to Save Money on Genuine Wagyu
In any case, real Wagyu is an expensive treat, and definitely not an everyday meal. If you’re out to try the real thing, be sure you’re equipped with a good credit card like the American Express Platinum Card.
Cashback and discounts can go a long way toward offsetting the cost of your meal. You can compare dining credit cards at SingSaver.com.sg.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.