If you asked the average English teenager what they’d like for a special treat the chances are they’d say a burger- probably from McDonalds or Burger King. They’s expect the burger to be well cooked through and be served in a bun with fries on the side. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that they wouldn’t ask for the meat to be served raw, with a raw egg on top and no bun or fries. Yet this is what the two teenage children of my Japanese host ordered, at their favourite place, the Korean Barbecue restaurant in Kochi. Their choice was Yuckhoe, the Korean version of steak tartar.
What makes the choice of these teenagers all the more remarkable is that a chain of Korean Barbecue restaurants (not in Kochi ) were in the news last year accused of killing 4 people, including two young boys, and hospitalising dozens of others by serving them raw meat infected with e-coli. The restaurants said that the meat had been intended to be cooked and was served raw by mistake.
If these incidents had happened in England there’s no doubt what would have happened. Mass hysteria would have taken hold, with a witch-hunt of the restaurants involved. The government would have imposed an immediate ban on the sale of all steak tartar “to protect the public” and the official advice would have been not to eat steaks cooked rare.
Where food is concerned the Japanese don’t do hysteria. Their response was to reflect that raw beef had been served to countless customers before these incidents without a problem; that nothing fundamental had changed; that no restaurant deliberately sets out to kill its customers. And so, after a few months when raw beef was quietly removed from menus it gradually returned and these teenagers were able to order their favourite treat without the faintest concern. Somehow, I think the Japanese have got the balance right.