Johannesburg, South Africa’s sprawling metropolis, is one of the most unequal cities in the world. Townships of immense poverty exist alongside Sandton - the financial hub that’s often called the richest square mile in Africa. Reflecting the huge gap between the haves and have-nots, demand for the world’s most expensive meat is increasing in the city.
Butchers slice through carcasses inside Braeside Butchery in Johannesburg.
Owner Caroline McCann is a “huge fan” of Kobe beef - the meat from Wagyu cattle in Japan’s Kobe region.
The Japanese taught McCann to cook the delicacy … Sliced thinly and plunged briefly into boiling miso soup.
“And with chopsticks just three to five times put the meat through the broth, and enjoy. And you do! It is just delightful. It’s incredibly creamy; almost like eating a slab of butter, so it’s very rich; you certainly can’t eat a lot of it,” said McCann.
Top chefs and butchers say Kobe beef is the best in the world because of its extraordinary marbling - the streaks of fat that make it rich and melt-in-the-mouth tender.
McCann, who’s visited Japan, said the meat currently costs more than $1,000 a kilo on international markets.
“In the really good places in Kobe they take a little bit of Saki (rice wine) in their mouth and they warm it up and they spit it on to the coat of their cows, of the Wagyu, and they take beautiful reed brushes and they bash down the outside fur, loosening it up and getting rid of all the excess dust and mites and what-not that could be there,” said McCann.
McCann says Kobe farmers understand that the better they treat their animals, and the better they feed them, the better their beef will ultimately taste.
“It’s kind of the ultimate diet. So they (the cows) have this wonderful massage once a day and then they get fed beer every day. Most people I know would put their hands in the air and beg to be a Wagyu… What they get is they get roughly a liter, liter and a half, of hops every day. So it’s high carb, high sugar, which also helps them to bulk up,” explained McCann.
The butcher emphasizes that Africa isn’t just a place of hunger and war… It’s also a continent where a market of super-wealthy people is expanding.
“The people that are looking for this are the same people that are very well traveled, very well read, very well informed; they would have eaten at some of the [world’s] top restaurants. So coming back here, to be presented with the opportunity of eating the best beef in the world, they certainly would grab that opportunity,” she said.
She added that there are a lot of people from elsewhere in Africa, who visit Johannesburg for business who also want to eat the decadent meat.
“So a lot of people from Ghana and Kenya and Congo, who come with significant money and come with a significant understanding of food internationally, and they’re also actively seeking out this kind of product,” said McCann.
As one of her workers tenderizes meat, McCann says she’s set to import Kobe-style beef from Australia, where Wagyu-crossbreeds are thriving.
She plans to sell the beef for 1,300 rands, or more than $100 a kilo, but it will sell for even more at restaurants.