I had the good fortune of being invited over to a Japanese chef's place for oshogatsu brunch in NYC on new year's day. There I met some people in the Japanese food industry, and one of the conversations we had was about "horumon", a type of cuisine based on offal. Horumon is most likely the transliteration of the English word "hormone", but some argue that the term comes from the western Japanese dialect for "horu mono" (or the parts that are thrown away). Horumon as a cuisine is more widespread in southwestern Japan, especially in Kyushu as well as the beef producing regions, like in Mie prefecture. While motsunabe (offal hotpot) is widely recognized as a regional cuisine from around Fukuoka, in most of the southwest, it's all about horumon-yaki, or horumon-yakiniku. Though I'm not sure of its history, horumon yaki seems to have a background in Korean cuisine, perhaps where Japan learned about the ways of beef.
Either way, you will not find much in the way of horumon in the US. As it was explained to me during oshogatsu in some passionate detail, all those offal parts that are revered in Japan are turned into pet food as "byproduct" in the US. My new horumon lovin' friends convinced me that it's something I really should try while I'm in Japan. They also told me that it's completely different from the limited offal parts you get locally because in Japan, the horumon parts are usually from high-end wagyu cattle. Then, watching a year-end Japanese program ranking the best of the low-brow eating all over Japan (All-Japan B-kyu Gourmet Best 30: http://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/sun/contact... ), the top spot went to a horumon specialist in Hiroshima (Horumon-King http://www.hormone-king.com/ ). This sealed my interest, and I knew I had to give it my full attention while I was in Hiroshima.
Around Yokogawa station, a residential community just northwest of central Hiroshima where I was staying, I counted at least a half dozen places that specialized in horumon-yaki. If I were to count the regular yakiniku places that served some horumon dishes, that number would surely increase. I first ventured in to Horumon Yakiniku Buchi (ホルモン焼肉 ぶち, http://www.h-buchi.net/ ), a local Hiroshima chain with about a dozen shops around the city and branches in Tokyo. Before I go into the meal, I should probably give a primer on the variety of horumon. From Buchi's website, there's a page explaining the variety of offal they serve: http://www.h-buchi.net/oniku/index.html
I'll attempt a cursory translation:
ホルモン (小腸): HORUMON (AKA himo, hoso, kotetsu, depending on regional dialect): beef small intestine, a thin tubular meat with a lot of fat, usually cut into small dices
ミノ (第一胃): MINO (AKA shironiku): beef first stomach: white colored with a slightly chewy texture.
センマイ (第三胃): SANMAI: beef third stomach: bumpy strands in varying colors of gray and white. Chewy and crunchy in texture. Delicious served raw with Korean chujang sauce.
レバー (肝臓): Liver: You all know about beef liver... next
コリコリ (大動脈): KORIKORI (AKA hatsumoto, take, takenoko): the large (pulmonary?) artery connected to the heart. White colored and very crunchy (thus the name) textured. Usually served with criss-cross scores through the flesh for easier grilling/eating.
ヤオキモ (肺): YAOKIMO (AKA puppugi, fuwa, basa): beef lung. Colored deep red, livery, but marshmallow textured with some chew.
チレ (ヒ臓): CHIRE: beef spleen: similar to liver, but more finely textured.
コブクロ (子宮): KOBUKURO: Pig uterus: Can be mistaken for regular red-meat pork. Very low in fat and high in protein.
ガリ (豚の食道): GARI: Pig esophogas: light pink colored, with a crunchy texture.
サガリ (横隔膜): SAGARI: Beef diaphragm cut from near the ribs. Can be mistaken for common beef cuts like flank steak.
シマチョウ (大腸): SHIMACHO (AKA tetchan, daitetsu): beef large intestine. Red colored, with a little more bite than the small intestine.
ハチノス (第二胃): HACHINOSU: beef second stomach: what most people know as tripe.
ギアラ (第四胃袋): GIARA (AKA akasen): Beef 4th stomach. English dictionary definition is "abomasum".
シビレ (胸腺と膵臓): SHIBIRE: Beef pancreas, AKA sweetbreads in some circles, though "real" sweetbreads are veal thymus glands. They're similar enough that they're interchangeable for most uses.
マメ (腎臓): MAME: Beef kidney: Packed with vitamins and iron, deep red and slightly gamey, chewy in texture.
ヤサキ (心臓): YASAKI (AKA hatsu, kokoro): Beef hearts. Deep red, good bite and texture, similar to tender cuts of beef.
オカマ (直腸): OKAMA (AKA teppou): Beef colon. Dark pink, crunchy textured, less fatty than the other intestines.
ハラミ (横隔膜): HARAMI: Beef diaphragm cut from the back. Similar texture to regular cuts of beef, very tender and beefy.
豚ハラミ (横隔膜): BUTA HARAMI: Pig diaphragm. Though beef diaphragm is more well known, the pig diaphragm is low in fat, healthy, and delicious on its own.
For the beginner, Buchi offers a sampler plate offering 9 different tastes and textures. These included korikori, shibire, chire, gari, horumon, mino, hachinosu, harami, and giara. Most were marinated in a sweet and savory sauce. Only the harami was unmarinated and presented with some yuzukosho. Similar to sushi, it was advised to start with the white items and move to the redder ones. Through the entire experience I was eating without care, but my dining companion seemed ready to be hit with some overly funky/gamey flavor, but it never came. Everything I tasted were mostly a textural experience, and many of the pieces tasted very similar to tender cuts of beef. I also varied the amount I cooked several of the items and longer cooking didn't do much damage to the taste or texture. The only one that I didn't take a liking to might be the lung meat, as it was far more chewy than the rest of the samples I tried. I really loved the fattier offal, especially the horumon (small intestine), and the giara (4th stomach). The ones with the crunchy textures were also quite a surprise for me, especially because I took quite a liking to them. Whether it's attributable to the wagyu breed, or the way they are handled in Japan, most of the offal items I tried were on the sweet side, aided with the marinade, some subtlly beefy, others easily mistaken for regular beef cuts, but they were all well flavored and not at all gamey. The only other meat dish I tried was the beef yukke, juliennes of raw beef in a sweet soy marinate, and mixed with an egg yolk. This was absolutely fantastic, made with a good fatty wagyu.
The sampler: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2711/4...
The sampler with namecard: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4004/4...
For my first visit to a horumon yaki joint, I think Buchi was a good choice, allowing me to sample a little of many items.
My second outing for horumon was at another place just off the tracks around Yokogawa station, called Horumonyaki Shokudo Kinoshita (ホルモン焼き食堂 木下 http://r.gnavi.co.jp/y174800/ ). Kinoshita is a well regarded local horumon-ya, written up in a few local guides. Since I really enjoyed the yukke at Buchi, I wanted to try something similar at Kinoshita, but they didn't have any. They did offer 3 sashimi choices, which included liver, heart, or sanmai. We went for the nama-sanmai, which is served with a sweet kochujang sauce. The julienned strands of sanmai looked a lot like tripe, and the texture of raw sanmai was squeaky and crunchy, and all I could taste was sweet, even without the sauce. The sauce added a more sweet and savory element, and was completely addictive. Kinoshita also offered a small sampler plate, which I proceeded to order. This one included mino, tetchan, hatsu, akasen (giara), horumon, and sanmai. I hadn't had the tetchan (shimacho) the first time around, and as I recalled the conversation I had on new years day, I remembered my horumon lovin' friends telling me I really had to try shimacho, as it combines the best of texture and fattiness. While horumon (small intestine) was like eating pieces of nicely textured beef fat, the shimacho gave that texture an extra boost and didn't feel overwhelmingly fatty. They were right that it's one of the optimal pieces for grilling. Besides enjoying the sampler plate, we ordered more of the shimacho, some more korikori, harami, and something I hadn't seen yet--something called "liver glands" (レバーグランス). On the menu, liver glands is described as the lymph gland attached to (or located near) the liver, with a similar texture to shirako or foie gras. This was also fantastic. I loved the texture, though it was a little more resilient than foie gras.
Nama sanmai: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2757/4...
Sampler plate: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2772/4...
Grilling the horumon: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4036/4...
Harami and shimacho: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2781/4...
Korikori and liver glands: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4045/4...
Kinoshita Menu: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2684/4...
So I'm a horumon convert. I can't wait to get me some more when I'm in the country.
OK, one more thing. Before you go thinking this is some bizarre foods thing, it's not. It's a fairly popular category of eating, revered by a good portion of the population. When you do a cuisine search on food sites like Tabelog, you'll see horumon as one of the categories along with sushi, washoku, french, ramen, etc. Horumon and motsu seem marketed to women for their properties of being good for the skin/complexion. It seems especially apparent looking at the website of what's probably the biggest horumon-yaki chain in Japan, Jonetsu Horumon (http://www.j-horumon.com/ ), with its 200 shops around the country. I find their banner graphic quite hilarious (you have to wait for the flash anmination to end).