Have you ever eaten world-famous Japanese Kobe beef? Unless you’ve actually been to Japan, the answer’s “No”. No matter how much you paid, or what it said on the menu.

The truth is: It’s a scam. You can’t buy Japanese Kobe beef anywhere in North America. Not in stores, not through the mail, and not even in the fanciest steak houses. Because it’s illegal to export any beef from Japan – Kobe included. In fact, you can’t even hand-carry it in your luggage for your own consumption.

And don’t let anybody convince you that the Kobe beef here comes from the same breed of cow that’s in Japan. The truth is: There are only 3,000 head of certified Kobe beef cattle in the entire world, and all of them are in Japan.

So, if it’s not genuine Kobe beef, how come restaurants and meat markets can call it that? Because Japanese trademarks aren’t recognized or protected in this part of the world. Which means, anybody can fraudulently capitalize on Kobe’s reputation for pricey, flavorful steaks. Bottom line: When you order Kobe here, there’s no telling what kind of beef you actually get.

Because the term “Kobe” could be slapped on any meat that comes from a cow, whether it’s from the Midwest, the Great Plains, South America, or Australia.

If you want to try a great steak, travel expert Larry Olmsted has a suggestion: Try dry-aged, USDA Prime, bone-in rib-eye. It’s better than any fake-Kobe beef you’ll find anywhere.