With its high protein content and excellent digestive properties, eel can stimulate appetite even during the blazing heat of midsummer. As you walk around shopping districts in Japan, your appetite may well be stirred by the smells coming from eel restaurants. Many of these restaurants emit from their storefronts a uniquely bittersweet-smelling smoke, which is produced by a combination of soy sauce and sake oozing out of the eel when it is being cooked. This smell attracts passersby. Many eel restaurants have only eel on their menus. A particularly popular dish is unajyu – broiled eel and rice served in two separate lacquer ware boxes, with the eel stacked on top of the rice. This dish is prepared together with a soup of eel innards and pickles. The soy sauce-flavor gravy is an essential part of the unajyu dish. Extremely fresh eel and secret sauce recipes are the foundation of the reputations of popular eel restaurants.
Kabayaki (eel dipped and broiled in soy sauce) is a form of eel cuisine that takes a long time to prepare. Eels are cut open and baked one by one. The eel is opened up, the head and bones are removed, and the body is then skewered, dipped in bittersweet sauce, and cooked. There are different methods of preparing kabayaki in the East and West of Japan. In Tokyo, the eel is cooked after being steamed to produce a fluffy texture. In Osaka and Kyoto, however, the eel is broiled over an open fire to provide a moderately firm consistency. In Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture – a location that is famous for eel production – “eel pie” with eel powder kneaded into the pastry is popular as a souvenir.
4-1-13 Nihonbashimuromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0022
Recent eel shortages have driven prices up: unajyu now normally costs around 3,000 yen, which makes it much more expensive than typical sub-1,000 yen Tokyo lunches. Why not take the leap into an eel restaurant and try unajyu for yourself? Enjoying this food inside an old eel restaurant rich with traditional atmosphere is sure to leave you with a great memory of sightseeing in Japan.
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