Unagi: Did You Know This Interesting Fact About Eel In Japan?
Unagi (鰻) (うなぎ) is how you say eel in Japanese. It is a delicious and luxurious super food that is often eaten in the summer to boost health and stamina to combat the summer heat. There is even a day dedicated to eating eel in July called Doyo-Ushi-No-Hi (Eel Day). Unagi is probably one of my favorite dishes in Japan and I honestly want everyone to try it if they have the chance.
In 1399, during the Muromachi period, Kyoto was the center of Japanese food culture. At that time, the cooking method used for unagi was to put the whole body of the eel on a skewer, add salt, and grill it.
It wasn’t until the Edo period (around the 1700s) that eels were prepared by cutting them open. At that time, there were only teahouses, and there were no restaurants where you could have a decent meal out. But by the 1770s, the number of restaurants increased and the culture of eating out began.
One interesting thing about Unagi is that it is prepared differently in different parts of Japan. If you go to Osaka, you’ll find unagi that is prepared differently from how they do it in Tokyo. And I’m not just talking about different taste or sauces. Find out more below!
How Unagi Is Cooked In The Kanto Region
The Kanto region is the area around Tokyo and the prefectures surrounding it such as Saitama and Chiba etc.
1.Unagi here is prepared by cutting open the back of the eel. The theory behind this is that there were not a lot of cooks in the 1700s that were highly skilled. Eels have no ribs, and to cut open from the belly requires skills using a cook’s knife. Moreover, there were a lot of single men from around the world who gathered around the city of Edo during that time and the demand for eating out increased. The shortage of restaurants and skilled cooks led to opening the back of the eel to improve cooking efficiency.
2.Unagi here is steamed. The theory behind this is that back in the days, the eel shops had to come up with ways to quickly provide eel to the short tempered Edo people. The eel here is prepared by grilling it without sauce, then putting it in a box to steam it. Once a customer comes, the steamed eel will be once again, grilled for serving. With this style, the eels become softer while the cooking time becomes shorter.
3.Unagi here is grilled using bamboo skewers. This is because the cooking method for the unagi here doesn’t require long grilling time like in the Kansai region, so normal bamboo skewers won’t burn.
4.The head is removed before grilling.
How Unagi Is Cooked In The Kansai Region
The Kansai region is the area around Osaka and the prefectures surrounding it such as Nara and Kyoto etc.
1.Unagi here is prepared by cutting open the stomach. The theory behind this is that Kansai was the center of merchant culture and to “open the belly and talk” was a term used for the act of “communicating”.
2.Unagi here is not steamed. The eels become soft using special grilling techniques. Back in the days, the grilled eels were placed between hot rice to soften the texture. This also led to a unagi dish with rice called Una-don.
3.Unagi here is grilled with gold skewers. This is because the method used for cooking eel in the Kansai region requires long grilling time in which normal bamboo skewers would burn.
4.The head is removed after grilling.
Recommended Unagi Restaurants In The Kansai region
This is a restaurant specializing in eels and fresh water fish. Unagi-no-kabayaki, which is char-grilled eel seasoned with special sauce that has been passed down by generations, is their specialty.
If you come here, we recommend that you try the Hitsumabushi-zen, which is eaten by putting grilled and chopped eels on rice. The interesting part is that you can enjoy the dish in three different ways: eat it how it is, adding condiments such as leeks and wasabi, and as chazuke (by mixing it with soup).
MENU: http://www.nishitomo.co.jp/c_unagi (Only In Japanese)
Here, you can find carefully selected eel that are char-grilled and seasoned with their secret sauce. Myodai-ohitsumabushi, is a popular dish which allows guests to enjoy 3 different tastes with one dish. Similarly to the restaurant above, you can start by tasting the dish just as it is, then you can try eating it with condiments, and finally you can try it by pouring soup into the bowl.
MENU: https://tabelog.com/mie/A2402/A240202/24000121/dtlmenu/ (Only In Japanese)
1. Cut open from the back.
2. Grilled then steamed.
3. Uses bamboo skewers.
4. Head is removed before grilling.
1. Cut open from the belly.
2. No steaming.
3. Uses gold skewers.
4. Head is removed after grilling.
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