Japanese chef turns crows into culinary delights

11/15/2011
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The French-trained chef Norihiko Fujiki preparing crow at his restaurant Espoir Photo: Espoir

NAGANO (majirox news) — Most people are repulsed by the idea of eating crows. The mere mention of eating these unpopular birds is like suggesting eating rodents.

It’s a shame, said Norihiko Fujiki, a French-trained chef and owner of the trendy French restaurant Espoir, because if properly prepared crows are delicious.

“If we can get over our cultural prejudice it would become a gourmet treat,” the 41-year-old told Majirox News.

Fujiki serves such meals as grilled crow in red wine sauce and roasted crow smothered in herbs at Espoir, located in Chino City in Nagano prefecture. A fixed menu that includes crow as the main course costs 6,000 yen ($77).

“The crow has an image of being sinister, and people see them as scavengers,” he said. “I want to change that.”

The meat doesn’t have any bacteria in it, and safety is not an issue.

According to Mitsuo Sekikawa, a professor at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, “Crow meat has no residual heavy metals or pesticides. Microbial testing showed there were no problems. In fact, crows contain more iron than chickens, ounce for ounce.”

Some even claim crows are good for men because it increases sexual potency. In medieval times they stood for virility. To many Native Americans the raven (belonging to the crow family) was a bird of extraordinary knowledge and power, honored as being unearthly. The raven plays an important part in rituals and myths of the Inuits in North America, who say they were the harbingers of light.

Fujiki got the idea for cooking crows from an old French cookbook. From that, he devised his own recipes and put them on the menu about a year ago. His customers who like game birds didn’t hesitate to order the crow. However, his other customers refused to eat it, saying they felt repelled by the idea.

Roasted crow served at Espoir Photo: Espoir

“But people who love wild dishes such as pheasants and other game birds like duck and quail find that crows are even tastier,” he said, “My customers were surprised that it was so delicious and they now crave crow.”

Since then his crow dishes have become so popular that Fujiki travels across Japan introducing his recipes to other chefs.

“My goal is to change people’s perception of the crow as being repulsive,” he says.

Fujiki purchases the crows from hunters authorized by the prefecture. In 2008, the population of crows became such a problem that Nagano prefecture gave grants to hunters to capture them with the hope of selling them as meat, which is legal in Japan. The prefecture wanted to reduce the damage that the crows were doing to its agriculture. Farmers see them as big, squawky, troublesome birds, descending down to eat their crops, especially during planting season.

In Japan, the crow-hunting season is from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15. There are two kinds of crows in Japan: Corvus macrorhynbchos and Corvus corone. Fujiki cooks the latter one, which is found in the wild.

Historically, crows were a food. There’s even a famous children’s poem that includes the line “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.” Pies made from parts of crows were served to the slaves and those of the lower classes who did not eat at the king’s or lord’s table in medieval times: the expression “eat humble pie” refers to this.

The trendy French restaurant Espoir Photo: Espoir

“To eat crow” is a similar idiom that means to be mistaken or defeated, and one needs to humbly apologize. Eating crow is perceived as distasteful in the same way that being proved wrong might be emotionally hard to take.

Crows were viewed as unfit for eating by the upper classes because they were seen as scavenging carrion birds and were associated with the battlefield. The corpses were left behind for them in a tradition in Western culture that goes back to the Middle Ages, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

That perception of the crow as distasteful could change. Maybe soon people will be tempted out of their comfort zones by Chef Fujiki and embrace the crow as a specialty food.

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3 Responses to Japanese chef turns crows into culinary delights

  1. anothergaijin on 11/17/2011 at 8:38 am

    There’s no way I’m paying 6,000 yen, but I wouldn’t mind trying crow meat.

  2. Rikio Imajo on 02/09/2012 at 6:27 pm

    I love to try crow meat but Nagano is too far from my place. I didn’t know there are two kind of crows in Japan and one could be caught to eat. My understanding is crow cannot be caught in Japan because of wild bird.
    My Korean friend told me a decade or two ago that the bird meat is good for male as a fortifier. Therefore the bird meat is very expensive in the country.
    I don’t know it’s true or not.

  3. Simon V on 11/29/2012 at 12:08 pm

    “I didn’t know there are two kind of crows in Japan and one could be caught to eat.”

    Actually there are more, (10 kinds of crow, which includes ravens, magpies, jays, rooks and jackdaws), 5 of which are in the same Corvus genus as the two above) and pretty much any animal can be culled if it is seen as a pest.
    You can’t legally catch or kill ANY wild bird without special permission.

    ” people see them as scavengers”
    That’s hardly surprising: They ARE! Be thankful for the job they do clearing up the roadkill. :-)

    Roadkill is another item that some people recommend as a culinary item, BTW. As long as you catch it fresh, it’s “free range”, and contains no (deliberate) additives.

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