Although apparently so famously gross it earned its own idiom in English, there are some communities around Japan that have long felt when it comes to fowl, crow is the way to go. For example the crow dish above can be found at Espoir De Maison, a French restaurant in Chino City, Nagano.
Ibaraki residents such as hunter Shinya Senmatsu say that such wild animals which feed on natural vegetation have more pleasant and less smelly meat. It’s uncertain if that really applies to crows who are omnivorous scavengers, but the locals swear by its surprisingly “soft and sweet” taste, to quote a local veterinarian.
The recent trend towards the consumption of wild game is referred to by a variation of the French word gibier in Japanese: jibie (Gee-Bee-Eh), presumably because it sounds really classy. In Mimasaka, Okayama a jibie processing facility was opened which deals in deer and boar meat.
Such efforts have been fairly well received in the area. In the case of Mimasaka, these animals have taken a considerable financial toll on the area’s agricultural industry, resulting in a call for population control. Ibaraki may also have similar complaints with the dubious honor of “most crows in Japan”, boasting a count of 4,628 of the big black birds.
“It’s also a benefit to people to reduce the numbers of pests” says Junichi Nakagawa, principal of the Nakagawa Cooking Art College in Mito City. The principal is apparently also studying new ways of preparing crow, possibly so that it might be sold as a specialty dish of the region to visitors.
Meanwhile, local hunters are at work bringing in the meat during the regulated hunting season from February to November. Utilizing the area’s large sweet potato output (Ibaraki produces 80% of Japan’s dried sweet potato) the hunters simply dump a large amount of steamed potato peels into a field and wait for the birds to come and feed.
Medical practitioners claim that as long as the crow comes from a trusted source and is properly heat-treated, there should be no health risk from eating. Asahi Shimbun reports sashimi-style crow breasts and grilled legs are among the ways they birds are prepared in households.
However, since the custom of eating crow has only started in the area since the end of World War II, cooks have looked to Europe – where, prior to the Industrial Revolution, crow was regularly eaten in the past – for more recipe ideas. The big question is why Europe stopped back at the start of the 20th century. Did it really taste so horrible, or are these people in Japan on to something and the game meat has just gotten a bad rap over the years?
Personally, I don’t think I’ll be trying some any time soon. Ibaraki and Nagano are a pretty far trek, and my schedule’s a bear. But who’s to say? Maybe one day we’ll all be eating crow and I’ll eat my words. Maybe I’ll have a little humble pie while I’m at it – humble pie actually being a pie filled with deer organs (umble) which was also served during medieval times…