Hidden Treasure of the Ninja Village! Iga Beef at Nikaku Shokudo

Hidden Treasure of the Ninja Village! Iga Beef at Nikaku Shokudo

Kyoto, Tokyo, Nara... these places are fine and dandy, but I can honestly say I’ve had more fun in Iga City than anywhere else I’ve visited in Japan. The whole place is covered in ninjas and ninja paraphernalia! But on this, my fourth visit to this magical place, I was going after something totally different. A secret held by the most secretive ninja city of all the secretive places in secret Japan...Iga Beef!

Written by Chad Martin
-Author's Introduction
My otaku side brought me to Nagoya, Japan in 2012, but I stayed for the food, countryside towns, and gorgeous mountain scenery. I was born and raised on the east coast of the US, but I dare say I never grew up. I never shut up about Japan.

Rumors had reached my ears that Iga had been hiding it’s own method of producing delicious beef. I headed to Iga to investigate.

I dashed off to my destination via ninja train.

Caption: Tell me you wouldn’t be absolutely giddy when this train pulls into the station to whisk you off to a whole world of ninjutsu.

I went out in search of this high-quality beef by chatting with a local who was on his ninja lunch break. We got to chatting and he recommended a place in town called Nikaku Shokudo and was kind enough to walk me there!

On the way, I asked about Iga beef and what’s so special about it. Of course, Matsusaka beef came up in conversation. If you weren’t aware, Matsusaka beef is some of the absolute best in Japan, and can be quite pricey. It’s produced in Mie Prefecture, just like Iga beef. This guy said he can’t tell the difference. According to him, Iga beef is just as high quality, but not well known by anyone except the locals. 

I’d had Matsusaka beef before, and it didn’t disappoint. So by now, my stomach was growling and my mouth was watering. He went on to tell me the place we were headed to was beloved by tourists and locals alike for its character. “Ah, here it is,” he said, and sure enough, we were standing in front of an absolute monument to Iga City.

Caption: Isn’t it just glorious?

I thanked my guide for going out of his way on my behalf and darted toward the store. My excitement peaked as I went to open the door and...what?! It wouldn’t slide open! Most restaurant doors in Japan slide open, and usually they’re automatic. Then I saw it...

Caption: Thanks for letting me know I need to push it, little ninja man!

The door spun open on an axis, like a hidden ninja wall panel! This city just keeps on giving. And what I saw on the inside left me amazed. 

Caption: A full-on ninja paradise!

Caption: Unfortunately it was a bit early for me to start putting down some ninja beers. I really want to know how they taste! Try them and let me know!

Caption: Ninja woodwork for sale inside the shop!

I flipped all through their extensive menu and ordered the “Grilled Iga Beef Set”. As soon as the waitress left, I jumped up to run around and see all the cool stuff on the walls. Not only ninja stuff, but other items related to Iga culture, like old pictures of the Matsuo Basho Memorial and Ueno Castle. To top it all off, there was a video playing in the restaurant that was all about the history and techniques of the elusive ninja. 

Caption: The secret of the ninja’s nutritional superiority!

As colorful as the layout was, my eyes had locked on to the glistening slices of Iga beef. They’d been grilled to perfection and came with a sweet sauce to be dipped in. A ninja never hesitates, so I snapped one up.

If you haven’t been to a Japanese “yakiniku” restaurant, you may not know that rather than serving a solid slab of steak, it’s quite standard to enjoy slices of it instead. It practically melted in my mouth. The juicy tenderness was on point. 

Caption: After Iga beef, determination and chakra flow through the the man’s body.

I could scarf down all the Iga beef and not feel bad about it at all, what with all the vegetables and Japanese pickles that came with it. As I was eating, a bunch of locals came into the place on their lunch break. They paid no attention to the atmosphere and were clearly here for the food. 

Super satiated, I made one last look around the place and noticed something really surprising.

Sure, there was plenty of English on the menu and whatnot, but that’s pretty standard at many restaurants nowadays. Having an actual prayer room available for patrons is something I never expected. I also noticed a halal sign at the entrance. I was the only foreign customer when I was there, but perhaps they receive many foreign tourists during some parts of the year. 

Caption: Saying goodbye was so hard. I’ll be back, I promise!

Before reluctantly leaving Iga City, I took a look around for other signs of Iga Beef. Near Uenoshi Station, there were not only some other nice-looking Iga beef restaurants, but a butcher’s shop, where you could buy lots of the good stuff to prepare however you desire. I found that the quality of Iga beef is totally up to par with the other big names, but the price seems to be far more reasonable at all the restaurants I checked. 

Caption: Offering Iga beef hamburger steaks and beef bowls!

To get to Iga and enjoy all the adventure and deliciousness it has to offer, you can drive from Nagoya or Osaka for about and hour and twenty minutes. By train, it takes about two hours from either city and requires changing trains, so unless you’re really good at the Japanese train systems, I would suggest taking a highway bus. 


Tourist attractions covered by this article