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Girljin in Japan By Rachel Tranter Davies


Japanese Eel
A Delicious Summertime Treat

Believed to be the perfect energy-filled food, Japanese eel is laden with vitamins, minerals and protein that stimulates the appetite and promotes stamina, especially under the blazing Kyoto summer sun.


Fatty and savory unagi kabayaki

Not something that is considered a delicacy in the West, eels are often overlooked when it comes to western cooking and menus. In Japan, there are several varieties on offer that have been popular for hundreds of years, and I can see why. Soft, fatty meat with a lovely rich taste, they're a real treat for the palate.

There are three main types of eel eaten in Japan; unagi (freshwater eel), anago (saltwater eel) and hamo (conger pike). All are considered to be the perfect summer food as they aid digestion and are thought to provide all the energy that one needs to beat summer fatigue, particularly in Kyoto where the mountains on three sides of the city cause a microclimate of high temperatures and even higher humidity.

Customarily unagi is eaten on Doyo-no Ushi or ''the midsummer day of the ox'', which in Japan traditionally falls around the end of July, at the peak of the midsummer heat. This year, Doyo-no Ushi falls on Tuesday July 25th, when traditional eel restaurants in the city will be packed full of customers, often with crowds queuing for hours to get a seat at their favourite local haunt.

There are myriad ways of enjoying unagi, anago and hamo in Kyoto, each technique offering a new and interesting way to uniquely enhance the flavour of the eel. Here's my pick of favourite dishes and where to find them in Kyoto.


Unagi/Anago
Kabayaki and Shirayaki

One of the most popular ways to enjoy eel in Japan, Kabayaki is a cooking style in which the unagi or anago is filleted, deboned, butterflied, skewered, grilled, and then brushed with a special tare; a sweet soy sauce.

Shirayaki is similar in that the eel is prepared in the same way, except it is only seasoned with salt and no tare. Purists love the latter as the true flavour of the eel is fully revealed. Either way it's glorious, the fattiness of the grilled eel ensures a sumptuous flavour and crisp texture. Hunt this dish down at Hirokawa in Arashiyama but be sure to get there early, or be prepared to queue!

Hirokawa: Tel: 075-871-5226; Open: 11:30-14:30, 17:00-20:00; Closed Monday; unagi-hirokawa.jp


Anago Tempura
Fresh anago, coated in light tempura batter and delicately fried. Pull up a seat at Tensyu and order the anago tendon, where the eel comes presented on a bowl of slightly sticky, flawlessly, fluffy rice (tendon translates as tempura on rice). The thrill of dining at Tensyu is that you can actually watch their exacting chefs prepare your dish from the counter seating overlooking the kitchen.


Anago tempura

Tensyu: Tel: 075-541-5277; Open: 11:00-14:00, 15:30-21:00; Closed Wed.; tensyu.jp


Hamo Shabu
You've probably heard of shabu-shabu during your travels around Kyoto. Usually a type of hot-pot cooked with slices of meat and vegetables, it is even more of an indulgence when the hot soup is flavoured with succulent slices of hamo. Tategami in Gion offers hamo shabu and hamo kaiseki courses that truly highlight the appeal that this way of cooking proffers.


Hamo Yubiki: Hamo is slightly boiled and usually served with sour plum pickle sauce

Tategami: Tel: 075-256-8733; Open: 12:00-15:00, 17:30-22:00; Closed: Mon.; www.tategami.info


Anago Chirashi
Chirashi-zushi or ''scattered sushi'' is a wonderful alternative to typical sushi options. It's made up of seafood and garnishes sitting atop a bowl of marinaded sushi-style rice. Anago Chirashi showcases grilled eel drizzled in homemade tare with Japanese herbs and egg. For an authentic Anago Chirashi experience, proceed to the basement food court in Takashimaya Department Store and choose from a great selection of tasty takeaway bento boxes that include succulent anago and seasonal vegetables.


Anago Chirashi-zushi

Takashimaya: Tel: 075-221-8811; Open: 10:00-20:00; www.takashimaya.co.jp/kyoto



Rachel is a food, drink and travel writer. Originally from England, she recently relocated to Japan and is now finding her feet in Kyoto. You can find her blogging tweeting and instagramming her experiences at Girljin in Japan.




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