*

UNAGI, ANGUILLA or ANGUILLE

Sometimes, I wonder how brave the people were to start eating something which looks little or less gross…
Octopus, for example, if I didn’t know it tastes good, I could never eat nor could I even touch it.  It looks like a Martian! (Though I’ve never met any Martians before… How terrible indeed the prejudice is!!)

 

iidako

Boiled Iidako (small sized octopus)
Photo from Science and Technology Institute

 

Anyway, Unagi (eel) is surely one of a kind which is not welcoming by its looks when it is alive.  Its long limbless shape reminds me of a snake.  My loving pet birdie which came from one of the tropical regions gets easily into panic when it just sees anything like a shape of snake, even a piece of string.  My birdie’s attitude tells me that a fear towards snakes comes almost from genetic level…

However, our ancestors conquered their fear and thanks for their braveness, we can eat Unagi eel without any fear!

As James Stephens wrote, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”

Needless to say, our ancestors’ motivation was not a curiosity but hunger, but when you are in a different country and in a different culture, you sometimes have to conquer your fear with curiosity!  Your curiosity will bring you to another world!

 

Unagi is one of the popular dishes in Japan and you will find many restaurants specialized in Unagi with this kind of sign.

unagikanban.

Unagi is written in Hiragana as うなぎ and the shape of  う looks like the shape of Unagi eel, so many signboards will be easy to find for those who don’t understand 鰻, written in Kanji.

 

unagi4

old Kanji of Unagi eel

 

Unagi eel was eaten as food from ancient times and I was so surprised that the oldest written record regarding Unagi can date back to Ancient Greece in 350 BC.  In Japan, there is a piece of poetry about Unagi eel in Manyoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled sometime after 759 AD during the Nara period.  So, eating Unagi eels seems weird but it is one of the most popular food which has the longest history!  In fact, it is eaten in many countries in Europe. I have an interesting experience in Lake Trasimeno, Lago Trasimeno, in Umbria, Italy. I used the adjective ‘interesting’ because I’d never eaten the eel cut into chunks and cooked in tomato sauce.

Anguilla al tegamaccio

Anguilla al Tegamaccio
photo from Taccuini Storici

 

While, in Japan, Unagi eels are always cut open and grilled.  As you know, because eating meat was not so popular in Japan, the rich and fatty taste of Unagi could have been an alternative of meat.  Grilled Unagi matches so well with soy sauce based sauce.  I have taken some of my friends from Europe to eat Unagi and they said they loved so much that they would like to eat it again.  So, if you like Sukiyaki, I mean, meat cooked in soy sauce, I’m sure you’ll love it.

unagi5

open cut Unagi being grilled in Japanese way

 

Unagi has been very popular since Edo period but recently there is a problem.  It is recommended that we should avoid eating Unagi eels due to the possible unsustainability, was included into Red list of Threatened Species.

 

img1_66

Ukiyoe by Utagawa Kuniyoshi of Izuei, Unagi restaurant in Ueno

However, in 2002, Fisheries Research Agency succeeded in the incubation and aqua farming.  Today, the project for the stable supply of Unagi is ongoing.

I like Unagi and I want to continue eating it.  So I’m the one who has already decided to eat Unagi properly.  I don’t buy Unagi which are sold in low price in supermarkets but I go to my favorite restaurant two or three times (maximum 5 times) in a year and enjoy myself more than 100% the good and tasty well prepared Unagi with much respect and gratitude for Unagi, and for all the people concerned.

izumoya

Unaju of Izumoya
photo from http://edoman.jp/sp/02/

There are great many restaurants specialized in Unagi all over in Japan and of course, I cannot tell that I know the best restaurant in Japan.  But below I secretly show you ‘my best’.  When you are in Tokyo and wishing to experience the real good Unagi, I recommend you the visit to this restaurant!!

 

Almost forgotten!!  There’s another important thing I will have to tell you of mentioning about Unagi.
The spice that makes Unagi more delicious!

It is the Sansho pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum).  It can be called green pepper, which has a very unique scent and flavour.  I think the flavour of Sansho pepper can represent Japanese cuisine, Washoku, and it came to my mind also reminding me of the famous Japanese chocolatier, Hironobu Tsujiguchi of Le Chocolat de H , who won the premier in Salon du chocolat with his chocolate with Sansho pepper.

Also the leaves of Sansho are important for us. If you want to know about Sansho leaves, please refer to 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo.

 

th_sansho_photo

A piece of chocolate with Sansho pepper of Chocolat de H

 

sansho in raw

Sansho pepper in raw

 

powdered sansho

Powdered Sansho

 

Once you know the taste of Unagi with Sansho pepper,  you can never go back to Unagi without it.

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

 

SHOP INFORMATION OF IZUMOYA

Address: 3-3-4 Nihonbashi-hongokucho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Only three minutes walk from Mitsukoshi-mae Station of Ginza line (Tokyo Metro), Exit A8.
Telephone: 03-3241-2476
Opening hours:
11:00 – 14:00, 17:00 – 22:00 (from Monday to Friday)
11:00 – 21:00 (Saturday)
Closed on Sundays and national holidays

izumoya4

 

 

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