As we saw in the first installment of this series, in Japan eel is almost exclusively prepared in the Kabayaki style and is closely associated with summer. Geographically speaking, it has very strong links to Hamamatsu, a city in Shizuoka Prefecture. From a gastronomic perspective, there is much that can be said about the place. First, its significant number of foreign residents enrich its restaurant scene with their various cuisines. Second, in recent years Hamamatsu gyoza has elicited kudos from serious dumpling-lovers. And, then, then, then, there is Hamamatsu unagi!
Though grilling is essential when preparing Japanese eel, the dish is available in two styles in Japan, one far more common than the other. There is the Kabayaki mentioned in the first installment, which involves grilling while basting with tare (special sauce) and the less common Unagi no Shirayaki, prepared without the application of tare during the broil and often eaten with soy sauce and wasabi. Some believe that this method of preparation showcases the best attributes of the fish itself, as the flavor of the eel does not have to compete with the sweetness of the tare.
While researching this series, we were fortunate to have the input of Mr. Koji Ikuma, a longtime resident of Shizuoka Prefecture and certified tour guide who runs a service—uj-tours.com—offering tours that are intellectually stimulating and significantly different from the itineraries offered by other enterprises. The “uj” stands for “Unfamiliar Japan.” Mr. Ikuma reminded us of the existence of Unagi no Shirayaki and provided his opinions with respect to drink pairings and eel. This will be covered in a subsequent entry. Ikuma-san acknowledged the fact that most Japanese associate eel with Hamamatsu, but that Mishima City, which is located in eastern Shizuoka, also produces high-quality eel. This is thought to be the result of their being raised in the “clear underground water of Mt. Fuji,” according to one of Ikuma-san’s sources.