Unagi – Freshwater eels in Japanese cuisine


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Have you eaten unagi? This is the Japanese word for freshwater eels, especially Japanese. This is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine, so let’s talk a little about these eels and their various dishes and preparations in Japanese cuisine that Detective Conan’s Genta loves so much. When dealing with salt water eels, his name is Anago (穴子).

Eels usually make a long migration and can live up to 30 years. Despite being called a freshwater eel, it spends good time in the sea and then goes to the rivers. Unfortunately the production of Japanese eel is low, most of it ends up being imported from other countries like China and Taiwan. Unagi is rich in proteins, vitamins A, B1 and calcium, this dish is popular in summer, because its proteins are believed to help fight summer fatigue.

For some it may be difficult to like eels, due to their viscosity. Fortunately, the Japanese are also able to leave a delicious unagi, as they do with other dishes. There are several ways to eat these eels, a very popular one that can please most people is grilled with a sauce on a spit. The eel surprises with its taste and texture that tickles and melts in the mouth. Another common way for Westerners to end up experiencing unagi is through sushi.

Unagi - freshwater eels in japanese cuisine

Different ways of eating Unagi

We have already talked a little about eating a grilled eel, which is usually eaten with pickles and rice. Another very popular way to eat unagi is with unadon, it consists of a bowl of rice covered with unagi. The eel is not eaten raw, as eating raw freshwater fish is not safe. Unakyu is a term used for cooked eel and cucumber sushi.

There are different ways to prepare and cook unagi. When it is filleted, boned and grilled, we usually call it kabayaki. When it is cooked without the only salt sauce it is called shirayaki. Another popular form of preparation is making omelets called Umaki. The eel slices are rolled up by the omelet.

The Japanese even eat the bones of eels in a dish called Hone Senbei. Using unagi’s long backbone, you create something crispy, light and salty.  They also eat the eel liver grilled in a dish called Kimoyaki or in soup form called Kimosui.

Unagi - freshwater eels in japanese cuisine

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

Curiosities about Japanese eels

Unagi is often served on rice and is expensive. It is not something we can eat daily without weighing the pocket, 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 experience.

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 that usually happens on Saturday, the Japanese have had a tradition of eating eel since the Edo period.

Unagi - freshwater eels in japanese cuisine

Unazen is a popular restaurant specializing in Unagi, which cook fresh eels on 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 have already tried it, comment below and share it with friends. We also recommend reading:

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