• Delicious

Casual Dining of “Gibier”, or Deer and Wild Boar Meat Is on the Rise

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Owner-chef Yoshiyuki Uwajima prepares tacos using deer meat at “French Izakaya UWASHIMA” in Sumida Ward, Tokyo.

“Gibier” cuisine featuring meat from wild animals, such as deer and wild boar, is rising in popularity. Gibier — the French word for game meat — is often associated with luxury, or having a peculiar taste and smell. However, recently there has been an increasing number of new ways for people to experience gibier cuisine.

At “French Izakaya UWASHIMA” in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, venison tacos have been served since November, in sync with the current deer-hunting season in Japan.

The dish uses deer shank and other parts of the Hokkaido Yezo sika deer, simmered with vegetables and are served in tortillas. The tacos have been popular, mainly among female customers, with one saying, “It has a light and delicious taste with none of the gaminess.” They are sold for ¥1,200.

The restaurant also offers deer steak every hunting season. But this season, through venison tacos, which can be eaten casually with one hand, the restaurant hopes it can make it easier for customers to enjoy gibier.

Owner and chef Yoshiyuki Uwajima, 47, who gained experience working in French restaurants, says, “Gibier is a common ingredient in French cuisine. Venison is aromatic and easy to eat and has become more popular in recent years in Japan. I hope that those who are usually unwilling to try new things will give it a chance.”

“Wine Bar Bologna” in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, began serving Bolognese using wild boar meat for ¥1,680 this autumn. The bar owner says, “Although many people are unfamiliar with wild boar meat, its feral, sweet flavor has been welcomed as something new.”

Courtesy of Gurunavi, Inc.
Bolognese using wild boar meat is served at “Wine Bar Bologna” in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

At Beck’s Coffee Shop, a cafe chain run by East Japan Railway Co., gibier curry rice is offered every fall. The curry is a hit among curious customers trying game for the first time. The cafe chain sold 11,000 plates from September 2023. Servings ended in November.

Although gibier has an image of being served at high-class restaurants or as regional cuisine, it is now being enjoyed in everyday cooking, with products being sold at stores, indicating its spreading popularity. MUJI stores, run by Tokyo-based Ryohin Keikaku Co., has been selling two types of retort pouch curries, one with wild boar and the other with venison, in limited quantities since 2021.

In November, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and others set up the website National Gibier Fair 2023 (https://www.gibier-fair.jp/  ). The website showcases a variety of menus, including a ramen chain whose gyoza contains deer meat and a dining bar’s deer shank and root vegetables pot-au-feu. It shares information on about 1,500 restaurants and stores, including e-commerce sites that sell gibier products online.

Lying behind the national government’s efforts to increase consumption of game is the serious damage caused to crops by wildlife. According to the farm ministry, crop damage in fiscal 2022 cost ¥15.6 billion and deer and wild boars accounted for approximately 60% of the total damage.

“We consider captured wild animals as a local resource and would like to make effective use of them for gibier cuisine,” said an official in charge of the nationwide project.

According to the Japan Gibier Promotion Association, an organization based in Nagano, the meat of deer and wild boar is rich in nutrients, such as vitamins and iron.

Norihiko Fujiki, 52, representative director of the association, says, “Deer meat has well-developed lean muscles, so you can fully enjoy its umami. Wild boar meat is sweet, and its melt-in-your-mouth fat is irresistible.”

Toshiyuki Ozaki, 41, of Gurunavi, Inc., a Tokyo-based company that runs an online gourmet restaurant guide, said, “The spread of values emphasizing sustainability and the fact that wild game is now sold at chain restaurants and stores close by have increased people’s interest in wild game, particularly among young people, including those in their 20s.”

As wild game has also come to be used in popular South Korean dishes such as bulgogi and bibimbap in Japan, he adds, “The opportunities for people to enjoy gibier cuisine is likely to increase further.”