Not to be confused with anago (conger eel, popular in Hiroshima), unagi is Japan’s freshwater eel, delicious when served as “kabayaki” and grilled on sticks over a charcoal fire. Typically grilled with a sweet and savory “tare” sauce, this popular dish emerged during the Edo Period but still remains just as luxurious and highly-coveted today. The Kanto region is known for both steaming and grilling their unagi fillets, while the Kansai region uses various grilling techniques to achieve that signature tenderness. Although available throughout the year, unagi is associated with summertime, it’s a nutritious meal that is said to increase stamina while improving heat tolerance. Marking the hottest day of the year, it’s also customary to eat unagi on Midsummer Day of the Ox. Unagi can be caught from rivers throughout the country and served at specialty “unagi-ya” restaurants across Japan, but Shizuoka Prefecture is particularly famous for its high-quality unagi.
Enjoyed a number of ways, unagi can be eaten as grilled fillets atop rice in a lacquered box, with scrambled with eggs in an unadon rice bowl, as sushi, or boiled in a “nabe” hot pot. Go easy to avoid overpowering the smoky flavor with “sancho” (Japanese pepper). The soft grilled eel is so tender that it melts in your mouth. Another delicious style is Nagoya’s signature hitsumabushi dish, which is complete with a 4-step eating ritual. Discover this delectable eel during an unagi experience in Japan, by either booking an unagi cooking class or joining a unique food tour. Rich in protein and vitamins, unagi is both nutritious and delicious when grilled to charcoal perfection.
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