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Increasing number of people are game for gibier cuisine

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  • THE JAPAN NEWS
                                Chef-owner Yoshiyuki Uwajima prepares tacos using deer meat at “French Izakaya Uwashima” in Sumida ward, Tokyo.

    THE JAPAN NEWS

    Chef-owner Yoshiyuki Uwajima prepares tacos using deer meat at “French Izakaya Uwashima” in Sumida ward, Tokyo.

TOKYO >> Gibier cuisine, which features game meat from such animals as deer and wild boar, is rising in popularity. French for game meat, “gibier” is often associated with luxury, but also the stigma of the meat having a peculiar taste and smell. But new preparations may boost diners’ experience of gibier cuisine.

At French Izakaya Uwashima in Sumida ward in Tokyo, venison tacos (about $8) have been on the menu since November, aligned with deer hunting season in Japan.

The dish uses deer shank and other parts of the Hokkaido Yezo sika deer, simmered with vegetables and served in tortillas. The tacos have been popular, mainly among female customers.

“It has a light and delicious taste with none of the gaminess,” said one diner.

The restaurant offers deer steak every hunting season. But this year, it hopes customers will enjoy casual eating with the venison tacos, which can be eaten with one hand. The restaurant hopes the dish will enable more customers to enjoy gibier.

“Gibier is a common ingredient in French cuisine,” said chef-owner Yoshiyuki Uwajima, who has worked in French restaurants. “Venison is aromatic and easy to eat and has become more popular in recent years in Japan. I hope that those who are usually unwilling to try new things will give it a chance.”

Wine Bar Bologna in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward began serving Bolognese (about $11.35) using wild boar meat last fall. “Although many people are unfamiliar with wild boar meat, its feral, sweet flavor has been welcomed as something new,” said the bar owner.

While gibier has a reputation for being served at either high-class restaurants or as regional cuisine, it is now being enjoyed in everyday cooking, with products sold in retail stores. Packaged curries at Muji stores, which come in wild boar and venison options, have been sold since 2021.

In November, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry started the website National Gibier Fair 2023 (gibier-fair.jp/) that showcases a variety of dishes, including a ramen chain gyoza made with deer meat and a dining bar’s deer shank and root vegetable pot-au-feu. It shares a listing of about 1,500 restaurants and stores that sell gibier products.

Part of the motivation for the government’s efforts to increase game consumption is the destructive impact wildlife has on crops. According to the farm ministry, crop damage in fiscal 2022 cost nearly $105.4 million, and deer and wild boars accounted for some 60% of the damage.

According to the Japan Gibier Promotion Association, an organization based in Nagano, the meat of deer and wild boar is rich in vitamins and iron.

“Deer meat has well-developed lean muscles, so you can fully enjoy its umami,” said Norihiko Fujiki, an association director. “Wild boar meat is sweet, and its melt-in-your-mouth fat is irresistible.”

Toshiyuki Ozaki of Gurunavi, Inc., a Tokyo-based company that runs an online gourmet restaurant guide, said, “The spread of values emphasizing sustainability and the fact that wild game is now sold at chain restaurants and (nearby) stores have increased people’s interest in wild game, particularly among young people, including those in their 20s.”

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