Eating at Unagi Speciality Restaurant in Japan

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  • Japan Trip 2012 vol. 4 | JustOneCookbook.comI want to thank my dearest readers for reading my Japan Trip posts.  I received a lot of feedback from you and I enjoyed reading them.  I wish there are more stories to share about where I came from but I was there for only 2 short weeks.  Half of the time our children were still jet lagged and my husband was working, so we didn’t go out as much as we normally do when we visit Japan.

    This is my final post about our trip.  If you missed my previous posts, here are the links: Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 (Kobe & Osaka) | Vol. 3 (Hakone).

    After we came back to Yokohama from our trip to Hakone, sakura (cherry blossoms) was in full bloom.  I thought of going to Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑) for cherry blossom viewing.  It is a large park with famous gardens located in Shinjuku and Shibuya, Tokyo and the park has 1,500 cherry trees there.  After thinking over, I decided not to (next time!) because of how crowded it could get and I still had two little ones with us.   There is a lot of walking and train switching to go from place A to place B in Tokyo area and I wasn’t quite comfortable doing that with my children.  So instead, we decided to just walk around our neighborhood.

    Japan Trip 2012 vol 4 1

    All the cherry blossom trees are full with delicate pink flowers.

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    When wind was blowing, petals falling down from the trees made the scenery seem like it’s snowing.  I enjoy the full bloom but I also enjoy this Sakura Fubuki (cherry blossom storm).  You have to be there to experience this beautiful moment.

    In my neighborhood, there are small bamboo forests and our children wanted to see “pandas” so we walked there to check out the bamboo forests (of course there are no pandas!).

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    When entering the forest, I particularly love the soothing noise of bamboo leaves brown by the wind.

    During our short stay in Japan, I had a few goals that I needed to accomplish.  One of them was to take my children to a photo studio and take their pictures wearing traditional kimonos.   My son is 5 years old (turning 6 next week!) and my daughter then was 3 years old.  So it was time to celebrate Shichi-Go-San (七五三, “Seven-Five-Three”).

    November 15th or the closest weekend is Shichi-Go-San in Japan and it’s a day of prayer for the healthy growth of young children.  Boys and girls aged three, boys aged five, and girls aged seven visit a Shinto shrine with their parents.  Girls wear kimonos and boys wear haori jackets and hakama trousers.

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    Since November 15th has long passed, we just took pictures of them for the memory.  It takes a long time for a girl to wear a kimono and do special hair style, and our baby did really well.  Something to remember when they get older…

    My husband had purchased 3 magazines that featured things to do and places to eat around our neighborhood.  Every time we go to Japan, he studies these magazines and decides what new restaurants we should explore.  Since he’s has been to Japan many times he has had the opportunity to try a lot of authentic dishes there.

    But one thing he hasn’t tried was really good unagi (eel) in a unagi specialty restaurant.  I cook Unagi Don at home, but the quality of fresh unagi in Japan is much better than the frozen ones we buy from the supermarket in the US.  This was our last meal with my family and we went to Uyagawa restaurant featured in one of the magazines.

    After my dad and my husband ordered Japanese beer, otooshi (お通し), an appetizer, came as part of the drink order.

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    The otooshi was chutoro, medium fatty tuna sashimi.  My husband said it was so good that he decided to order another chutoro sashimi for our kids.  They are crazy about sashimi.

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    I’m still amazed how raw fish in Japan can be so fresh.  It’s just amazing.  I wish I can get this quality in the US.

    Then my dad told my husband we have to try grilled unagi kabuto (head) and unagi liver.

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    Unagi liver on the left and head on the right.  Because of the delicious sauce you don’t really taste anything weird or fishy.  Even our children tried and they liked both.  The unagi head was cooked until the bone almost dissolved so you couldn’t really feel the skull bone.  The liver was very fresh and my husband said it’s similar texture to pig intestine, but much smaller and refined (I’ve never had pig intestine before…).

    We also order Yanagawa Nabe (dojo loach hot pot).  Dojo is known as weatherfish or weather loach and enjoyed in many Asian countries.  The dojo was simmered in stock with sliced burdock root and egg in a shallow hot pot.

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    Dojo is not something we eat normally, so it was a great experience for me too.  This dish was actually very good.  I ate quite a bit with steamed rice and it was yummy!  The burdock root goes so well with this sweet soy sauce stock and egg made the dish creamy and mild.

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    We asked the chef if we take pictures of him grilling unagi and we were told it’s okay as long as we stood outside the kitchen.  You can Google and find how they dissect the fresh eels but I will skip since not all readers would be comfortable with the process.

    Now the chef started to grill.

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    Here’s a very short video clip of how he grilled.

    He grilled unagi till about 70% cooked, then dipped the eels into his homemade unagi sauce pot you see in the back.  He grilled again and dipped, and grilled…until unagi was perfectly cooked.

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    Then he put unagi in a special steamer for the last process.  He drizzled the sauce over rice then place the unagi on top of the rice.

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    Usually unagi is served in a jubako, a lacquer bento box (above).  This unagi dish is called Unaju (うな重).  “Una” is the abbreviation of “unagi” and “ju” is the abbreviation of “jubako.”  If you serve unagi over rice in a bowl (donburi) at home, then it is Unadonn (Unagi Don) (うな丼) (unagi + donburi).

    Depending on how much unagi you want, the price is different ranging from $30 for a small to $60 for a large.  The above photo is for the medium size.  Eating unagi in a specialty restaurant is a real treat and quite pricey due to lack of domestic eels.

    After opening the jubako cover, and biting into the soft tender eel meat with fabulous sweet sauce and a bit of rice, the price is well worth it.  The recipe for the sauce is secret for each store.  Some restaurants has been using the same sauce for many many years and just keep adding base sauce in the pot every day.

    The next day we took a bus to go to Narita Airport.  We passed by Tokyo downtown, and Tokyo Tower (東京タワー).

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    As soon as you leave the downtown area, you will soon see a panoramic view of Tokyo Bay and you still see the Tokyo Tower there.

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    Next you see the tallest tower in the world, Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) in the back of the buildings.  Maybe it’s too small to see from this photo below.

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    Here now you can see it.  The construction was completed in February 2012 and it just opened to the public 2 days ago.  This is a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower.

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    We had a great time in Japan.  Our children always long for going back soon.  They love the food, activities, hot springs, and they can go on and on.  After having my blog, I also realize that I have a great opportunity to introduce Japan and share the pictures about it.  We go back to Japan every year so I am looking forward to sharing many things in the future.

    Next Monday is Memorial Day and it’s a holiday here in the US.  I’m very behind in my correspondence to your feedback and questions, so I’ll be taking Monday off.  I will come back next Thursday with very easy Unadon (unagi over rice) recipe with homemade sauce, just like you saw in my post today.  I hope you will come back to check it out.

    *****

    Lastly, it was my son’s turn to pick the winners via random.org.  Two lucky winners of my recent giveaways, a box of Japanese Blueberry Cheesecake Kit Kat, are:

    Winners

    Congratulations Sylvia and Lynn!  Thank you everyone for participating the giveaways.  I’ll be contacting the winners soon.

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