Japan’s gyutan capital has a very unique vending machine.

Japan has been known as a vending machine paradise for a long time, but until recently it would have been more accurate to call it a drink vending machine paradise, as the vast majority of what was for sale were beverages. During the pandemic, though, we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of food vending machines in major Japanese cities. Rather than snacks, this new breed of vending machines often offers food to take home and cook or reheat, as restaurants and their suppliers coped with the much smaller number of people eating out at the pandemic’s peak.

So when our Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa recently took her first trip in several years to Sendai, the largest city in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region, she wasn’t shocked to see that there were a lot of food vending machines on the streets near Sendai Station. What she was surprised about, though, and very pleasantly, was to find a vending machine selling beef tongue!

Now, depending on your gastronomic background, you may or may not think beef tongue is anything to be happy about finding. Within Japan, though, you’ll find plenty of fans of gyutan, as beef tongue is called, and they’ll tell you that the best beef tongue comes from Sendai, where it’s the city’s representative dish.

This vending machine, proudly bearing the description “delicious foods of Tohoku cafeteria,” offers a variety of Tohoku delicacies, including deep-fried noronbo, a kind of deep-sea fish caught off the Ishinomaki coast of Miyagi Prefecture…

and gacha-style Sendai beef, where you can receive either premium Sendai beef sirloin or a lesser cut of meat.

But what had really grabbed Ikuna’s attention was the beef tongue.

▼ 牛タン = beef tongue

The 240-gram (8.5-ounce) pack is priced at just 500 yen (US$3.50). Considering that it’s not uncommon for beef tongue to sell at prices of around 700 yen per 100 grams at supermarkets, this was a serious bargain, and one that Ikuna wasn’t about to pass up. As a matter of fact, it was so affordable that she decided to try her luck at the beef gacha too, and bought a beef pack in addition to the beef tongue one.

▼ In her excitement, Ikuna forgot to make a note of the machine’s exact location, but it’s somewhere around here.

▼ Beef tongue (left) and Sendai beef (right)

Both the beef tongue and gacha beef come out of the vending machine frozen and raw, so after getting into the kitchen Ikuna’s first step was to defrost them, starting with the beef tongue.

We mentioned that the machine’s beef tongue was far cheaper than what you’d pay at a grocery store, but there’s a bit of a catch here. What the vending machine sells are beef tongue trimmings, so the cuts of meat inside the pack are of varying shapes and thicknesses.

Depending on your sensibilities, though, that might be a plus, since cooking and eating an entire beef tongue can be a little unnerving, as it’s the size and shape of a big tongue. Pre-cut into pieces, it’s easier to think of it as just beef.

Despite the non-uniform sizes and thicknesses, after cooking them up in a pan, Ikuna found that the vending machine’s beef tongue was tender and delicious. The pre-seasoning of salt and green onion wasn’t anything fancy, but it was a tasty complement to the flavor of the meat itself, and when Ikuna added a squeeze of lemon juice, it tasted even better.

Next up, the gacha Sendai beef.

Unfortunately Ikuna wasn’t lucky enough to receive the special sirloin cut, but even her second-place meat looked mouthwatering to her, with some visible marbling.

Unlike the beef tongue, the Sendai beef doesn’t come pre-seasoned, so Ikuna did it up with a dash salt and pepper, enough to make their presence felt without covering up the flavor of the beef.

Taking a bite, she was immensely pleased with how it had turned out, and the hearty, energizing beef was also enhanced to an even higher level after she added a splash of lemon juice.

So remember Ikuna’s reminders, everybody: if you’re traveling to Sendai, make sure to save some cash for the beef tongue vending machine, and don’t forget to pick up a lemon on your way home too.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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