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We made super tender 'Chalapian Steak,' dish inspired by opera singer with toothache

This famous dish still exists on the menu at Tokyo's Imperial Hotel.
The famous steak tenderized with onions was inspired by Feodor Chaliapin, an opera singer with a toothache in 1936.Terri Peters / Getty Image
/ Source: TODAY

Redditor Fatmiewchef, who lives in Hong Kong and posts to Reddit anonymously, started a cooking blog during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to chronicle cooking for his then-pregnant wife and share some of his favorite family recipes from growing up in Singapore.

But it's his post about a recipe from a Japanese hotel, created for a German opera singer, that's attracting attention within the Old_Recipes subreddit.

Fatmiewchef shared his blog post about the steak on Reddit, along with the recipe for recreating "Chaliapin Steak," a dish that appears on the menu at Tokyo's Imperial Hotel to this day.

As the story goes, famed opera singer Feodor Chaliapin traveled to Tokyo in 1936 to perform and record "The Song of the Flea" but came down with a toothache during his travels. Chaliapin was craving the comfort foods of his own country, and asked hotel chefs to prepare an extremely tender steak for him to eat. The steak they created, which was tenderized using the enzymes in grated onions, became known as Chaliapin Steak.

"The story fascinated me," Fatmiewchef told TODAY Food. "I felt sympathy for this Russian dude who was essentially on a business trip in a strange and foreign land, suffering from a painful malady and needing something familiar to eat as a way to soothe himself. How bad do you want a steak, that you would still want to eat one despite having a toothache?"

The Imperial Hotel's website explains how they currently create their version of the dish.

"Rump steak is marinated in onions to soften it, with generous helpings of onion sauté on top in place of a sauce," the site reads. "Chaliapin Steak is but one of the traditional creations passed down through the ages at the Imperial Hotel."

Eager to try tenderizing my own steak using the power of onion enzymes, I set out to try the recipe in my own kitchen.

Pounded steak is marinated in grated onion to make it as tender as possible.Terri Peters

Once my eyes stopped watering from grating and chopping onions (in addition to using grated onions to tenderize the meat, more chopped onions get sautéed as a topping), I made small slices in a few sirloin steaks and coated them with the grated onions. After letting the meat rest for about a half hour, it was time to cook.

My husband suggested cooking another sirloin steak without the onions, only pounding it with a meat tenderizer as a "control" to see if the onions changed the texture of the steak. The verdict: A little bit of onions made a huge difference.

Not only were the Chaliapin Steaks melt-in-your-mouth tender, they were also super flavorful — a clear winner at my dinner table. We served the steak with some baby red potatoes, parboiled and sautéed in butter then topped with parsley: They were the perfect accompaniment to the decadent dish.

A side dish of simple red potatoes, parboiled and sautéed in butter, was the perfect complement to our steaks.Terri Peters

So, other than his fascination with Chaliapin's story, why did Fatmiewchef choose this unique steak to share to Reddit?

"I have a fascination with old recipes and how they have evolved over time," he explained. "When people share their great aunt's cookie recipe, they aren't just giving directions on how to cook, but also trying to share some of the warmth and love that their great aunt brought to the world. Food, if looked at as an interactive artistic medium, touches us where nothing else can."

The final product: onion-marinated steaks served with red potatoes and parsley.Terri Peters

As for the Chaliapin Steak, I will be using the technique of tenderizing meat with grated onion on a regular basis. From the buttery tenderness of the meat to the delicate onion flavor in each bite, this steak was worthy of a standing ovation.