Regular readers of the blog would know that we’re really big fans of Donburi.
We last touched on how donburi can make for excellent meals for travellers on a budget while holidaying in Japan.
Unagi being prepared at a road-side stall. Photo: tofugu.com
Another staple ingredient of donburi is without a doubt, the unagi (fresh water eel).
A chef preparing unagi for cooking. Photo: tofugu.com
While most know just how tasty it can be, there’s also a great amount of history to this dish.
Unadon used to be enjoyed by Kabuki-attending audiences as an intermission snack. Photo: Chikuyotei
Unagi is so closely tied to the culinary cuisine of Japan that unadon is generally considered to be responsible for the very creation of donburi as a whole!
Unagi sushi. Photo: standingsushibar.com
Unagi Kabayaki. Photo: wikipedia
While unagi is generally known to be served in a variety of different dishes such as unagi sushi and unagi kabayaki (蒲焼, skewered eel), unagi is offered in a great number of variations as well in donburi form alone.
Unagi sold in a supermarket. Photo: xminmusic
Indeed, unadon is such a versatile dish that it fits in just about anyone’s budget.
Affordable unadon can be obtained from many supermarkets at very reasonable prices and often have good quality.
Unaju is served in a rectangular lacquer box. Photo: wikipedia
Naturally, unagi don, as well as its more premium variation, unaju (distinguished by the rectangular, lacquer boxes it’s served in), are also served at many restaurants worldwide.
While affordable to medium-range versions are plentiful, extremely high-end unadon have also been made available for diners outside of Japan.
Making a high-quality unadon is best done in the traditional way – which is a far more involved process.
Live unagi. Photo: Something about Japan
High quality eels can only be obtained from a limited number of sources and are often imported live and not frozen.
Unagi grilled over charcoal. Photo: Chikuyotei
For maximum freshness, the unagi is usually prepared only when an order is made. The eel has to be cut and filleted before being skewered and meticulously grilled and placed on rice in just a matter of hours so as to preserve as much flavour as possible.
A premium unadon isn’t complete without a good sauce to top it off.
Many traditional unagi restaurants serve their unadon in specially made tare-sauces.
Tare-sauce in a pot. Photo: 日本丹頂ツールブログ編Ⅱ
These sauces are created with very specific ingredients and recipes, with the pots they are served in being constantly refilled . This leads to the sauce being served in the same pot for decades – and creating an extremely potent flavour!
From a quick & affordable meal to a luxurious, high-end ‘edible art form’, it’s no wonder that the unagi has been such a well-loved aspect of Japanese cuisine for decades.
Read more about Donburi in WAttention Vol. 25 HERE!