Not to be confused with anago (conger eel, popular in Hiroshima), unagi is Japan’s freshwater eel, famously delicious when served as kabayaki, grilled on sticks over a charcoal fire. Typically grilled with a sweet-savory tare sauce, this popular dish emerged during the Edo Period but still remains luxurious today. The Kanto region is known for both steaming and grilling their fluffy unagi fillets, while the Kansai region uses various grilling techniques to achieve that signature softness. Although available throughout the year, unagi is associated with being eaten during summer, a nutritious meal said to increase stamina while improving heat tolerance. Marking the hottest day of the year, it’s also customary to eat unagi on the midsummer day of the ox. Caught from rivers throughout the country, Shizuoka is particularly famous for its high-quality unagi, although specialty unagi-ya restaurants are also scattered throughout Japan.
Enjoyed a number of ways, unagi can be eaten as grilled fillets with rice in a lacquered box, or with scrambled with eggs in an unadon rice bowl, in sushi, or boiled in a nabe hot pot. Go easy to avoid overpowering the smoky flavor with sancho (Japanaese pepper), with soft grilled eel supple as it melts in your mouth. Another delicious style is Nagoya’s signature hitsumabushi dish, 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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