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Shangri-La wine, Dalian's Wagyu beef a cut above the rest

By LI YINGXUE | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-21 08:33
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Beef belly, tongue, tenderloin, fillet and sirloin steak are all on the menu of the Japanese restaurant chain Sushi Yotsuba.[Photo provided to]

Beef belly, tongue, tenderloin, fillet and sirloin steak are all on the menu of the Japanese restaurant chain Sushi Yotsuba, which uses about 38 different beef cuts in its dishes every day.

However, the prime cut is Wagyu beef and to many diners' surprise, it isn't imported. Instead, it comes from Dalian, Liaoning province, where the Wagyu cattle are raised on a 900-day grain diet.

In recent years, high-quality ingredients sourced domestically have become popular in upscale restaurants across China. Consumers are also increasingly appreciating locally sourced ingredients thanks to advances in farming techniques, transportation and storage.

According to Li Yiran, Sushi Yotsuba's vice-president, their Wagyu dishes are a big hit. "The meat is tender and flavorful, whether it's sliced, grilled, simmered or stir-fried," Li said. "The most popular items are Wagyu sushi, Wagyu fried rice and Wagyu hot pot."

Customers' perceptions of domestic Wagyu beef have evolved, he said. They no longer have a sole preference for imported varieties and are recognizing the quality of locally sourced meat.

Sushi Yotsuba has been exploring the use of domestic Wagyu since 2016. It started using Wagyu sourced from Dalian in December. Last November, Li and his team visited Dalian's Xuelong Waygu Beef factory.

"The most memorable part (of the visit) was the well-organized and tidy cattle pens equipped with fans, wind barriers and special feeding troughs," Li said.

The team inspected the on-site butchering of the meat and later tasted the products. "This visit resulted in many new cuts being introduced to our customers," he said.

Sushi Yotsuba selects 100 percent purebred Wagyu. Animals raised for 28-36 months have a more refined taste compared with regular Wagyu cattle raised for 300 days.

The difference between free-range and raised cattle is the ability to finely control the Wagyu's growth. If done correctly, it results in meat with more marbling, Li learned.

"Domestic Wagyu has a significant advantage in fresh meat transportation time. For example, the import time of Australian Wagyu is 30-60 days, while the transportation time of Xuelong Wagyu is 10 hours," Li explains.

Domestic wines are also becoming increasingly popular in Chinese restaurants.

Ban Shan Yao from Under Clouds, a Yunnan restaurant in Beijing, recently introduced a new wine list featuring 24 wines from the Shangri-La region of Yunnan province.

Xie Li, a wine expert and author, said grape cultivation arrived in Shangri-La in the mid-19th century with the spread of Catholicism. In the 21st century, the industry has flourished with the establishment of multiple wineries and an influx of winemakers from around the world.

Shangri-La vineyards are at altitudes ranging from 1,700 to 3,000 meters. Mild sunlight and a long growing season make it an ideal wine-producing region. Xie believes Shangri-La has the potential to produce exceptional wines.

"The unique environment of this region means that Shangri-La isn't focused on producing large quantities of wine. Compared with flatland farming, grape cultivation here involves higher costs in management and transportation," Xie said.

"Local Tibetans tend the vineyards and the wineries pay them fairly, contributing to better local incomes."

Xie has visited Shangri-La many times and over the past decade, she's seen the rise of many new wineries. "Shangri-La is very welcoming and has attracted numerous foreign winemakers," she said.

Wine from Ao Yun winery in Shangri-La is the only Chinese grape product included in the distribution network of the French province of Bordeaux. The winery's recognition has helped Shangri-La earn its place on the international wine map.

Xie said Chinese wines, including those from Shangri-La, have seen a remarkable growth in popularity in recent decades. Domestic wine enthusiasts are now more open to trying and appreciating Chinese wines. "Some locally produced wines cater to the tastes of newcomers to the domestic wine scene," she added.

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