Unadon – The perfect subtlety
Japanese cuisine is famous for the subtlety and sophistication in every single detail. It not only illustrates the dexterity of the chef but also contributes to taking the value of the dish to new heights.
Similar to the unique and diverse culture, in terms of cuisine, Japan has countless fascinating dishes that come in various tastes and forms. In this article, we will be talking about a significantly popular dish which was registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage in 2013. It is Unadon or Unagi (Rice topped with grilled eel).
What is the Unadon look like?
Regarding my first impression of this dish, I was treated with Unadon when I first came to Japan. In my imagination, eel is black and looks a little bit scary! I saw people having eel with porridge or glass noodle but did not dare to try. It gives me the feeling that there would be something wiggling in my belly.
That day, we went to 文泉 (Bunsen) – a diner in a narrow alley in Shibuya. When walking in, you could immediately smell the delicious aroma of food in the air thanks to the small space designed in traditional style with a low ceiling. This local restaurant was small but very crowded. With all the chairs filled, it was very cozy inside, totally opposite to the cold of winter outside.
I wanted to take some pictures of this place to share with you, but I did not take any of them. The reason was Japanese people respect privacy and do not like to show up in candid photographs. For the same reasons, smartphones produced in Japan always makes sounds when taking photos to prevent bad people from using your photo for bad purposes.
The perfect subtlety
There were many dishes and drinks on the menu, but my friend recommended me to try the traditional Unagi that cost nearly 3000 yen.
I thought the chef was also responsible for serving the tables since she cooked and brought dishes to the table. I was truly surprised by the hearty meal she placed in front of me.
The well-prepared and well-decorated dish in the Japanese style wiped out my bad impression about eel. That was the first time I had something served in a lacquered wood box, which gave me a sense of nostalgia. That box is called Jubako (重箱) and often used to store traditional food during the New Year festival. This box is also designed in a small size that is suitable for takeaways.
I was able to enjoy a full-course meal: a bowl of hot miso soup, a bowl of chicken for the appetizer, a small plate of pickled cabbage, a cup of hot tea and a Jubako with traditional pattern which contained golden (instead of black as I thought previously) slices of eel with sauce.
The eel was seasoned with good-for-heath spices and had a little bit of sweetness from sugar and saltiness from mirin. Moreover, the eel was filleted to make it easier to eat. I felt like the round white rice was cooked with a sufficient amount of water so it was very tender. I am a slow eater but even so, when the rice cooled down, it was still soft and slightly clinging.
The highlight of the dish was soft and shiny slices of eel which were delicately arranged in layers. All the above points, plus my hungry belly after 8 hours of traveling, made it hard for me to resist the appeal of this dish.
Japanese people not only care about the quality of the dish but also pay attention to the decoration, including small details.
Before the meal, I noticed that there was a warm cloth for people to wipe their hands before eating and a pair of chopsticks (disposable ones) on the table. Food safety is probably the top concern in every Japanese meal.
Apart from that, they also provided hot tea for people to warm themselves up after walking in the cold outside. How thoughtful of them!
I’ve come to love Unagi!
After doing some research, I know that Unagi became popular in Japan since a long time ago thanks to its ability to increase people’s strength. This is because this dish contains various vitamins as well as protein and calcium which can stimulate people’s appetite and support digestion. In the Japanese menu, Unagi is a good dish to provide additional energy; therefore, it is a little bit costly.
Despite the first impression, I was totally conquered by Unagi and my bad impression of eel was also tackled. Thanks to this dish, I was able to have eel from then on, and grew to be fond of this food. I will introduce this dish to my friends and will definitely try more dishes made from eels.
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