This is the third installment in our series on eels. This week we take a look at some things associated with the eating of eels. Whenever we discuss eels as they are prepared and served in Japan, it will refer to Unagi no Kabayaki.
If a hot dog looks naked without mustard, caviar forlorn without a glass of Champagne, and a breadless sandwich is nearly an oxymoron, then no Unagi no Kabayaki table setting is complete without kimo soup, sanshō, and pickles.
This can be described as eel-liver soup, but do not expect a muddy bowl of broth. It is anything but. This is a clear soup, slightly salty, with a piece of eel liver at the bottom of the bowl. In shape only, the liver bears a certain resemblance to ginseng. It is slightly chewy, and the perfect soup for the occasion. Its subtle elegance complements the opulent fattiness of the eel and the sweetness of the tare.
Japanese pepper, a.k.a., Zanthoxylum piperitum (don’t you just love those Latin names!) and sanshō (mountain pepper; 山椒), is an essential condiment that is sprinkled on top of the fish, which rests on a bed of rice. It is highly flavorful and sometimes produces a slight numbing sensation, which is interesting and not in the least bit unpleasant.
There are some options here, but our favorite is known as Narazuke. For more information on Narazuke, readers might want to check out the website of Shinroku Honten (Ibaraki Prefecture), whose factory was established about 150 years ago. The link here is to their English-language page