Unagi - Freshwater eels in Japanese cuisine

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Have you ever tried "Unagi"? This is the Japanese word for fresh water eels. This ingredient is quite common in Japanese cuisine, and we will talk a little about these eels, their various dishes and preparations in Japanese cuisine, which are highly appreciated by characters like Genta from Detective Conan. For saltwater eels, their name is Anago (穴子).

Eels usually migrate long distances and can live up to 30 years. Although they are called freshwater eels, they spend a lot of time in the sea before migrating to rivers. Unfortunately, the production of Japanese eels is low, and a large part ends up being imported from countries like China and Taiwan. Unagi is rich in proteins, vitamins A, B1, and calcium, being a popular dish in the summer because of the belief that its proteins help combat fatigue in this season.

For some, it may be difficult to enjoy eels because of their sliminess. Fortunately, the Japanese are able to prepare Unagi in a delicious way, just like they do with other dishes. There are several ways to eat these eels, with one of the most popular being grilled with a special sauce on a skewer. The eel surprises with its flavor and texture that melts in the mouth, creating unique sensations. Another common way for Westerners to experience Unagi is through sushi.

Unagi - freshwater eels in Japanese cuisine

Different ways to eat Unagi

We talked about the grilled version of eel, usually served with pickles and rice. Another very popular way to enjoy Unagi is through "Unadon", which consists of a bowl of rice topped with Unagi. Eel is not consumed raw, as raw freshwater fish are not considered safe. The term "Unakyu" is used for sushi made with cooked Unagi and cucumber.

There are several preparation and cooking techniques for Unagi. When it is filleted, deboned, and grilled, it is called kabayaki. If it is cooked only with salt, without sauce, it is known as shirayaki. Another popular preparation is Umaki, which consists of slices of Unagi rolled in omelets.

Japanese even consume the bones of eels in a dish called Hone Senbei. Using the long backbone of the Unagi, it is possible to create something crunchy, light, and salty. In addition, they appreciate grilled eel liver, known as Kimoyaki, or in soup form, called Kimosui.

Unagi - freshwater eels in Japanese cuisine

There are thousands of other ways to eat unagi, whether as a specialty or as an ingredient in some other dish. Not to mention regional differences!

Facts about Japanese eels

Unagi is often served on rice and is quite expensive. It is not something we can eat daily without weighing the wallet, probably due to the difficulty of finding unagi and preparing it. You can't just go to a market and buy fresh eel and prepare it without the necessary expertise.

Unagi is a special food consumed mainly in the summer. There is even a special date called "Doyo ushi no hi" (土用丑の日). On this date, which usually falls on a Saturday, the Japanese have the tradition of eating eel since the Edo period.

Unagi - freshwater eels in Japanese cuisine

Unazen is a popular restaurant specializing in Unagi, where they cook fresh eels upon your request. Other popular restaurants in Tokyo are called Ishibashi, Ikeunagi no mise, Godaime Nodaiwa, Unagi Uomasa and Miyoshi.

If you are in Japan, have the opportunity to try these Japanese freshwater eels! If you've tried it, comment below and share with friends. We also recommend reading:

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