As summer approaches, many people take great care of their food to prevent summer fatigue. Eel is perfect for such people. It is a good food for digestion because it is high in protein and rich in minerals and vitamins. In Japan, there has long been a custom of eating eel to prevent summer fatigue. Speaking of the typical eel dishes, there are “unaju” and “unadon”. Can you explain the difference between the two dishe. In this article, we will introduce about “unaju” as well as explain the difference between “unaju” and “unadon”.
What is Unajyu?
Unajyu is a popular dish in Shizuoka Prefecture made primarily of eel. Lake Hamana, located in the prefecture is known as the birthplace of eel aquaculture, and the lake was the first in Japan to become successful in rearing the cultivation of eels. Hamamatsu city is home to several long-established eel speciality restaurants that have been in business for more than 100 years. Unajyu, can be enjoyed in both the Kansai style, which comes with a sweet, crisp sauce or the equally popular Kanto style which is best for buy and bake on the same day because then the tasty eel does not become too chewy.
What is the Difference between Unajyu and Unadon?
There is very little difference between the two. Unadon is served in a bowl and Unajyu is served in a heavy box. The difference between the bowl and the box is only seen in the quantity of eel present. On average, you can expect to receive 1.5 times more eel in a serving of Unajyu, than in a serving of Unadon. There is no difference in the quality of each. Both are available as a normal-sized or special sized portion. Unadon was created in the late Edo period of Japan, while Unajyu was not created until later, during the Meiji period. The use of the heavy box was introduced so that it could be delivered to customers while the meal inside stayed warm. If you put the same amount of eel into the box it looks a little scarce, so the larger sized meal was introduced for the box version.
There is a long history of eating eels in Japan. The oldest known eels are over 5,000 years old, with eel bones being excavated from a shell mound dating to the Jomon period (10,000-300BC). There is a famous song in Japan where Otomo Iechimo encourages Yoshida Renro to eat an eel. From the song, it is clear that eels were already known to have a strong taste and to be a nourishing meal. During the Heian period, aristocrats preferred to steam white eels and salt them. Eels were so named from at least the 12th century.
Eels were first mentioned in literature in the Suzuka Family Book of 1399, when written in the sixth year of Oei. It was known as Kabayaki because when cut into the shape of a cylinder before being placed onto a skewer, the eel when cooked resembled the ears of a gama. Another theory was that when roasted the fragrant aroma transforms into kaban, kabaya and kabayaki.
After this time, through to the Muromachi period (1333-1573), eel was eaten with salt, vinegar and miso. At the end of this period, there was the first known appearance of a dish called Ujimaru, which consisted of broiled eel, chopped and seasoned with soy sauce, sake and pepper miso. Kabayaki took on the style of today from the 18th century, during the Tenpo period of 1781-1789 as thick soy sauce was then available from the Kansai region. The kabayaki style established then has not really changed since that time.
Variations of Eel Available
Kanto style involves splitting the eel from the back, this is also known as a back opening. The meat is then skewered and baked as it is or steamed before covering with sauce.
Kansai style involves an open belly, skewering and baking before a sauce is added for a final baking. This style does not include steaming. It is also known as ‘ground burning,’
It is considered a difficult art to correctly cook eel and make the dishes taste delicious. There is a Japanese saying that describes eel cooking as 3 years of skewering, 8 years of tearing and a lifetime of grilling.
The eel or Unagi used
Japanese often serve Unagi Kabayaki over rice. The grilled eel topping itself is the “Unagi no Kabayaki (鰻の蒲焼)“. The dish is titled “unaju” (unagi + jubako) when served in a square lacquerware bowl called a “jubako”. Unaju, on the other hand, is generally higher in grade and more expensive than Unadon. Unaju makes use of more unagi than Unadon.
The Origin of Unajyu Boxes
There are several theories about the origin of the bowls and boxes used for Unajyu. One theory is that during the 18th year of the Meiji era (1868-1912), Okubo Imasusuke, an eel loving theatre owner required his eel to be delivered warm in a bran of rice to prevent the dish from becoming cold during delivery.
- Why are Square boxes used for unajyu?
The box is square in shape so that eels can be beautifully placed in every corner
- What is the difference between (Nami)並, (Jyo) 上, and (Tokujyo) 特上 in Unajyu?
The quality of eels is the same and the quantity of eels is different.
Restaurants Serving Unajyu in Hamamatsu
Hamamatsu has lots of recommended Unajyu restaurants.
Eel Dish Atsumi
Eel Dish Atsumi is a restaurant that specializes in using high quality domestic ingredients, including eels from Lake Hamana. You can be assured of high standards of food safety here with a high number of customers sampling the original taste of eel. Kabayaki Unajyu is baked with a sauce using a secret recipe that has been handed down for more than 100 years, the restaurant was founded in 1890. The delicious sauce, is full of aroma and fragrance which you will enjoy from the moment you take the first bite. There is a large menu for you to choose from at this restaurant located within ten minutes walking distance of Hamamatsu Station on the JR Tokaido Line.
Unagi restaurant Hikumano uses only eels from Lake Hamana in its original dishes. The restaurant specializes in all aspects of eel cuisine using fluffy textures of the body and skin and using salted boiled liver in a wasabi soy sauce in its dish known as Kimosashi. It is an old-fashioned style of an eel speciality restaurant, located just a five-minute walk from Hamamatsu Station. All the eel served here is steamed until soft and fluffy and served with a light sauce if required. The varied menu includes sake and wine selection of local products from Shizuoka Prefecture in addition to the selection of eel dishes available.
Charcoal-grilled Unagi Aoiya
This specialty eel restaurant was formerly known as Charcoal-grilled Unagi Kantaro, and sells carefully selected eels of high quality, particularly eels with a thick volume, they are typically roasted and served with wasabi sauce and a little salt. One of the charms of this restaurant is that you can choose the eels you want to eat from the live selection on display. Kabayaki is then prepared before carefully grilled using Bincho charcoal. This is selected for its smooth texture that produces a dish of fluffy tasty eel surrounded by a crunchy fragrant exterior created by the charcoal. The rice used here is carefully selected, Akitakomachi, which is renowned for using less pesticides.
Kanerin Eel Restaurant
This restaurant is famed for its exquisitely baked eel using Bincho charcoal and the ‘Unaju Special,’ a sauce that has been served across generations of customers. Founded around 70 years ago, it is a restaurant serving a richly flavoured eel that only a long-established restaurant can deliver. Customers can enjoy the atmosphere of a calm environment inside or weather depending on the courtyard surrounded by beautiful scenery.
The Shimizu Family Restaurant serves freshly grilled eels that are caught that morning. The Unajyu is served along with a soup. Only the number of eels they expect to serve each day are delivered each morning and all are cooked to order on a charcoal grill carefully managed to ensure the heat is at the correct temperature. Customers can enjoy a taste that is unchanged over three generations of this family of chefs in an inviting atmosphere, or if you prefer to take away your selected food then eel boxes are available for this service.