Dish Stories

Eel Box | 鰻重

Origin - Japan

#Sweet #Savory #Luxury #Grilled #Sauce

Japanese eel bowl
Freshwater eel is often eaten as a luxury item in Japan

Una-ju (鰻重) is a Japanese dish that consists of a jubako (lacquered food boxes) filled with steamed white rice and topped with fillets of grilled freshwater eel that is glazed with tare, a sweetened soy-based sauce.

grilled freshwater eel
Grilling freshwater eel over charcoal.

In Japan, freshwater eel is relatively an expensive delicacy, prized not only for its flavor but for its stamina-giving properties. It’s traditionally eaten during the hottest part of summer (Day of the Ox on the lunar calendar) to provide strength and vitality for the rest of the year. Well-prepared eel is very rich in flavor with an appetizing texture – crisp on the outside but soft and tender in the inside. The grilling process is the key component in producing the unique texture. The eels are first grilled over hot charcoal then steamed to reduce excess fat and then brushed with tare and grilled once more. In Osaka, Japan, the eel is not steamed but grilled longer to burn off more excess fat and produce an even crispier skin.

The quality of the charcoal wood used is also very important. The best charcoal for eel is hard oak from Wakayama in central Japan. The aromatic smoke adds a special smoky flavor to the eel as it is grilled.

[ History ]

One story accredits the originator of Una-ju to a man who started a freshwater fish restaurant business in Asakusa, Tokyo, called Funagi (Later known as Jubako) According to some, the una-ju was already around by late Edo period, while others say that the una-ju appeared in the Taisho era which is 300 years later. It is often viewed that by using lacquered boxes, una-ju is often aimed at appearing luxurious. It is usually pricier than una-don which is essentially the same dish except that una-don is served in a bowl rather than a lacquered box.

[ How to Eat ]

Make sure you have sufficient sauce so that some of it seeps through the rice underneath. If not, you can always ask for more! To add a little kick to the dish, sprinkle some sansho (Japanese Pepper) on top as seasoning.


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