Gyutan is a Japanese food that is made from grilled beef tongue. The word gyutan is a combination of the Japanese word for cow (gyu) and the English word tongue. Since gyutan literally means "cow tongue," the word is also used to refer to cow tongues in Japan. The custom of cooking gyutan originated in Sendai in 1948, and is usually served with barley rice, tail soup, and pickles in the Sendai area. In other areas in Japan, gyutan is most often served in yakiniku restaurants. Gyutan was originally conceived to be flavored with salt, which lead to gyutan being called tanshio (lit. "tongue salt") in many yakiniku restaurants. However, some stores now serve gyutan with tare sauce.
Gyutan was created when Sano Keishiro, the owner of a yakitori restaurant in Sendai, opened a new restaurant that served cow tongue dishes in 1948. This restaurant was called Tasuke, and is still considered one of the best places to eat gyutan in Sendai. Sano decided to open this restaurant to use cow tongues and tails left over by occupation forces, which were stationed in Sendai after Japan was defeated in World War II. Gyutan was initially considered a rather unusual dish, but gradually gained popularity throughout Japan, partially because white collar workers who were transferred from Sendai spread its reputation to other cities.
Gyutan restaurants received a boost in 1991, when Japan's import quotas for beef were eliminated. In 2003, the Japanese government temporarily banned American beef imports after the mad cow disease was discovered in the country. This was a devastating blow for many gyutan restaurants. For example, 90% of the beef tongues used in gyutan restaurants in Sendai were imported from the U.S. Additionally, somue connoisseurs claim that U.S. beef contains the ideal amount of fat for gyutan dishes and refuse to use Australian beef.