Unagi is an extremely expensive delicacy which is famous for not only its flavor but for its stamina-giving properties. Traditionally, it’s eaten in the hottest periods of summer on the day of the “Ox” to provide strength and vitality for the remainder of the year. Unagi is freshwater eel and when well-prepared has an appetizing texture which is crisp on the outside and succulent within. It’s prepared by first grilling the eels over hot charcoal, steamed to remove excess fat, seasoned with sweetish sauce and grilled a second time. In Osaka and other parts of the Kansai area, the steaming process is skipped and the eel grilled longer producing an even crispier skin with less fat.
Unagi can also be confused for Anago. Unagi (freshwater eel) is known for its bold, rich taste, while Anago (saltwater eel), is a more muted choice, known for its incredibly soft texture and natural sweetness. … The eel is then steamed, drained of oil, and basted in a sweet eel sauce.
The quality of ingredients used in the preparation of unagi is about as important as the dish itself, so it’s not uncommon to find restaurants maintaining their secret recipes. In fact, the quality of charcoal used plays a big role in the taste of the final dish. The best charcoal comes from the hard oak tree in Central Japan, and its aromatic smoke adds a special flavor to the eel as it grills. The eels themselves are best caught wild rather than from eel farms and at 30 to 50 centimeters is ideal for the unagi.
Unagi doesn’t get prepared until after the customer orders, and even though the preparation requires a good deal of time and patience, the end result is well worth the wait. Unagi restaurants are identified by the elongated (う) character (the first character in ‘unagi’) fashioned after an eel and displayed prominently at the front of restaurants.
Unagi can be served over a bed of rice as a main dish and in two varieties (unaju or unagi donburi) or on skewers without rice and known as kabayaki. When grilled without sauce it’s referred to as shirayaki, and this plain form of eel is most common with diehard unagi purists. As a full course meal, the shirayaki is served with a clear soup made from eel livers which are famous for being highly nutritious.
Most people would find the price of the average unagi dish expensive especially in the top-end shops, but you will find less-expensive but still very good unagi dishes in departmental stores and shopping malls which are often branches of these higher-end shops.
Unagi on a Stick in Shibuya
Located in Shibuya, Tokyo just behind the station at Cosmo building at 2-8-8 Dogenzaka, this unagi place has been around for a long time. They serve a standard unagi don, but the allure is the unagi on the stick. The unagi skewers include all parts of the eel.
Here are a few pictures of us enjoying Unagi with Wayne who visited Tokyo from New York. Good conversation, excellent company and scrumptious food – what a combination and we had a gala time.
One of the most famous Unagi places is right across the street from Tokyo Tower, this is the best spot in Tokyo for Unagi. I used to live across the street. Its a short walk from Roppongi.