Oodles of Unagi in Shizuoka | CoolJapan

Shizuoka prefecture may be most famous as the home to the iconic Mount Fuji and excellent green tea, but another reason foodies flock to Hamamatsu City is to feast on its speciality dish: Unagi. Unagi or freshwater eel has been farmed in Lake Hamana since the late 19th century and has become integral to Hamamatsu City’s identity and cuisine.

A photo of Unaju

Unaju, served in jubako, a lacquered box. (Photo from: Takedahrs via Pixabay)

The most popular Unagi dish you can find all over Japan and around the world is Unadon — luscious grilled slices of freshwater eel atop a bowl of fragrant white rice. But if your Unagi rice meal comes in a traditional lacquered box, it’s known as Unaju instead. Either way, Unagi is typically served as Kabayaki, slathered with the typical sweet soya sauce called tare, but you can forgo the seasoning and enjoy the eel Shirayaki-style as well.

A photo of Unadon

Unadon, served in a bowl, which is usually more casual in style than Unaju.  (Photo from: Jojomild via Pixabay)

Unagi is popular because it is packed with nutrients like Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin A. While it is in season all year round in Hamamatsu City, it is most popular during the hot summer months because it is believed to help relieve heat fatigue. This is believed to be how the tradition of eating Unagi on Doyo no Ushi (Midsummer Day of the Ox) aka the hottest day of the year came about. Others choose to indulge in Unagi during Autumn instead as the eels are firmer and fatter during this time in anticipation of the cold winter days. 

Grilled unagi isn’t the only way to consume this dish in Hamamatsu City. One of the town’s most popular food souvenirs is created by traditional confectionery Shunkado called Unagi Pie, a long biscotti-like cookie that's shaped to look like a piece of unagi, flavoured with some unagi extract and coated with a bit of tare to give that hint of smoky unagi flavour without being too fishy.

Another unusual Unagi product that has made waves is Unagi soda, carbonated cola or soda water with a tinge of eel essence for flavour. 

While Unagi remains a beloved traditional Japanese delicacy, overconsumption in recent years has driven up prices and drastically reduced local wild populations, landing the Japanese eel on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Threatened Species Red List. While the industry tries to figure out how to sustainably farm unagi to protect both the species and environment, savour your Unagi while you still can.

(Cover photo from: Takedahrs via Pixabay)