Hello, this is Pocket Conciege editing team.
“Unagi” – Eel is a Japanese favorite people love to eat during the hot, humid summer of Japan, since it‘s known to rejuvenate your body and give you energy. Today, we’re going to help you discover the alluring world of eel.
1. Kanto and Kansai have Different Ways of Cutting Eels?
Did you know that different areas have different way of cutting the eel before cooking it?
According to “A Textbook of Eels You Can Learn through Quizes, Japan Eel Test” (Shogakukan), the Kansai Region uses a method called “harabiraki,” cutting the eel open from its stomach, while the Kanto Region uses a method called “sebiraki,” cutting the eel from its back.
It is said that the Kanto Region cuts the eel from its back to avoid reminding people of the “seppuku,” a way the samurai died by cutting his own stomach. But what makes the eel so special, since people had no trouble cutting other fish from its stomach?
It is also said that the cutting method of the eel differs since both regions have different ways of cooking the eel. Kabayaki, grilled eel in the Kanto Region is made by cutting off the eel‘s head before cooking it. It is then steamed and grilled. It is said that the chefs didn’t want to cut the thick part of the eel, the stomach so they could easily skewer the eel when steaming it. In contrast, in the Kansai Region, eels are grilled with leaving its head without steaming it. The chefs don‘t need to worry about the eel falling apart, so they can cut the eel from the stomach. The Kanto’s steaming cooking method creates a fluffy texture, while the Kansai‘s grilled eel is crunch and crisp. People have their favorites, but you can appreciate the dish even more by eating both and comparing the differences.
2. The Quality, NOT the Amount Determines the Grade (Sho Chiku Bai) of the Unajyu
Do you know there are two famous dishes when eating eel in Japan? One is “unajyu” and the other if “unadon.” “Unadon” which is eel served on rice, is cheaper, allowing anyone to enjoy it. The high-class, “unajyu” is served in an expensive plate called ojyu. Since it‘s expensive, many people like to eat it during special occasions.
Unajyu has three rankings, “sho chiku bai” (highest grade, superior, normal). This does not mean that the higher the grade, the better quality eel is served. In fact,the type of the eel and the grilling method is completely the same. The only difference is the amount of the kabayaki (grilled eel served in the Kanto Region) or the part of the eel that‘s served! In other words, generally, it doesn’t meant that the highest grade eel is caught naturally from the ocean and the normal grade eel is caught through culturing. Prices generally don‘t change depending on the type of the eel.
If there‘s a restraint serving naturally caught eel, other than the usual “sho chiku bai” option, there’s also be a “naturally caught eel from ◯◯◯” on the menu.
The quality of the “unajyu” served in the ojyu plate and “unadon” served in a bowl is also the same. Some of the reasons why the unadon could be cheaper might be foror its smaller portion, the kabayaki of the tail portion where the eel tends to be thinner is used, or for having or not having kimosui, eel liver soup.
3. Why does the Kansai Region call “Unadon,” “Mamushi” (Pit Viper) ?
Some people in the Kansai Region call “unadon,” “mamushi” (pit viper)! If you‘re not from the West of Japan, you might be surprised hearing people say, “Let’s eat pit viper tonight!” But this “mamushi” does not refer to the scary pit viper. It‘s actually a type of “unadon” that’s made by sandwiching eel between rice. Between in Japanese is called “ma” and “mushi” means to steam, hence the word “mamushi” when referring to this dish.
Of course, the generally known “unadon” made by serving kabayaki over rice is available in Kansai, but since the eel is hidden beneath the rice, some people are surprised when opening the cover, thinking there‘s not eel. This is said to have started by people sandwiching eel between rice before heading to battle, so the kabayaki won’t become cold, since heating technology wasn‘t invented during this time. The eel is slightly steamed by the rice, becoming closer to the kabayaki served in the Kanto Region. There’s actually quite a lot of fans who prefer eating this “mamushi” dish. The heartfelt invention continues until this day, loved by the people as mamushi.
4. Eeels Produce Eggs in Tropical Oceans
Eeels are thought to live in rivers or ponds. You might think that they produce eggs quite close to where you live, but they actually produce eggs in the tropical ocean, far away from Japan. Spawning research of eels started around the 1930s. It is said that in 2009, Japanese research team found a fertilized egg of an eel in near the Mariana Island oceans for the first time in the world.
Most of the eels served today are cultured. These are not farmed when the eels are still eggs, but are farmed while they are young fish. It seems that there will be a stabe supply of eels if people could invent a way to farm eels from eggs, but this seems to be something we need to wait for a while.
There‘s a lot of news concerning eels, like “We won’t be able to eat eel if this continues,” “Eeels were designated as a endangered species.” This is quite depressing for a lot of eel-lovers. We definitely need to think about what we can do so we can pass on this delicious food culture, while enjoying eating eels.
Kyosui eel is known as the Maboroshi eel (“dream eel”) of Shizuoka Yaizu. This special rare brand of eel is only available in certain restaurants and Ebisu Unagi Matsukawa is popular for its 100% Kyosui eel menu.
Inspired by the idea of offering customers an entire cut of Japanese eel to enjoy, “Unagi Yondaime Kikukawa” opened its doors in Nagoya in 2017. With a background in managing a long-standing wholesaler that has spent 90 years catering to countless eel specialty restaurants, it is no surprise that the ingredients are as good as it gets.
Inside the sukiya-style building of Unagi Akimoto, you can savor the highest grade domestic unagi of the season, which has been recognized by the Michelin club.Unagi Akimoto utilizes the style of “split, steam, and grill,” which brings out the best flavor of the unagi, and is a perfect location for entertaining important guests as well as for banquets.