Unagi   うなぎ

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Unagi being grilled over a fire

Unagi on a bed of rice, which absorbs the delicious sauce, becomes unadon

Restaurants specialising in unagi often incorporate eels in their signage - here the eel makes the "u" in "unagi"

Grilled eel

Eating eel may not immediately appeal to tourists in Japan, with its oiliness and somewhat snake-like appearance. However, the Japanese cook it in a way that will have you licking your fingers!

By the eighteenth century the Japanese were used to eating eel. Because the fish can be greasy and somewhat unappetizing, they began brushing the fillets in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar, a delicious recipe particular to every restaurant, each of whom jealously guards their secret. It's even said that in the big earthquake of 1923, some were saving their favorite sauce jars before anything else!

The eel fillets are then grilled over a fire, and turned over sixteen times until crisp and caramelized. In the Kanto region, they prefer to boil the eel slightly beforehand to reduce the fat content. Eel, unagi in Japanese, can then be eaten from the skewer or placed on a bed of rice, which then becomes unadon.

Eel is a symbolic dish in Japan. Everyone traditionally eats it on August 15, reputed to be the hottest day of the year, as unagi is believed to restore one's strength to endure the heat. In the prefecture of Shizuoka, and Hamamatsu in particular, you'll find the largest number of restaurants specializing in eel.

Now, unagi is found all around the country. Fast food chains such as Yoshinoya or Sukiya have adopted the dish, and offer very satisfying and cheap unadon. Some Tokyo restaurants are counted among the historic and gastronomic institutions, such as as Maekawa in Asakusa, which has existed for 200 years.

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