Unagi (うなぎ) is freshwater eel. Not to be confused with anago (saltwater eel), unagi has a rich, fatty flavor that lends itself well to grilling. Unagi may be prepared in a variety of ways, but the most popular style is called kabayaki in which the unagi fillets are grilled and basted in a savory sweet sauce. Places famous for unagi include Lake Hamanako, Tokyo and Narita.

Unagi is served year round; however, it is especially popular during the summer months due to properties thought to increase stamina and heat tolerance. Grilled unagi is almost always accompanied by a container of powdered sansho (Japanese pepper) which has a strong, astringent flavor that helps balance the fattiness of the eel. Take care to use sansho sparingly lest it overpower the dish.

Unagi is most commonly served as one of the following dishes:

  • Unaju (unagi box)
  • Unadon (unagi rice bowl)
  • Hitsumabushi (Nagoya style unadon)
  • Unagi Nigiri (unagi sushi)

Where to find unagi

Unagi is best experienced at unagi specialty restaurants called unagi-ya, but it can also be occasionally found at other restaurants, such as shokudo. Typically available from around 3000 yen, unagi is a relatively expensive dish, and a recent drop of unagi populations inside and outside of Japan is unlikely to change that situation anytime soon.