Sign of the Eelphoto by Ray Larabie on Flickr
When I first moved to Japan, I saw a lot of signs like this. They were cool, yes, but they never really inspired me to actually try unagi, or eel. For me, eel was something beautiful and vaguely manacing to look at while, say, diving. Being from New Mexico, the only parallel I can think of is if somebody asked me to eat scorpion! Well, that all changed the first time my wife took me to Narita-san, a temple town that is famous for its delicious eels. It took awhile, but I’ve been converted!
Unagi-zushi (Eel sushi)
Since you’ll likely be eating sushi anyway, “unagi-zushi” is probably a good start on your quest to understand the appeal of eel (yes, I had to say it). Sushi is bite-sized, making it the perfect no-obligation food—you take a bite, you swallow it down, and if you don’t like it, no harm done, right? But looking at these gorgeous displays, I have to ask what’s not to like! Take a bite, and savor the flavor.
Small packages of goodnessphoto by avlxyz on Flickr
Eat them quick, before they bite back!photo by cherrylet on Flickr
Once you’ve taken your bite-sized baby steps, you can graduate to unagi steak, which can be char-broiled, filleted, etc. just like your average beef or pork variety. The best eel steak I’ve had was flakey on the outside and tender inside, a perfect mouth-watering balance!
Fried? Filleted? However you want it…photo by acme on Flickr
…You can probably get it!photo by takamorry on Flickr
Other Options, from the Tame to the Bizarre
If you crave a bit of greenery with your eel, there’s always the time-honored unagi salad option—don’t let them skimp on the eel if you can help it. No matter how you like it, eel is a beloved delicacy in Japan—so much so that wild eel-themed products, such as eel-flavored pretzel snacks and even ice-cream, have been a staple for many years (I really, really don’t know about the ice-cream. You first!). Well, now you know the deal…with eel!
Unagi Salad (this is about as vanilla as it gets)photo by masuidrive76 on Flickr
Unagi Pretz (Eel-themed pretzels. Seriously)photo by arnold | inuyaki on Flickr
Unagi Ice-cream (Yeah, don’t ask me!)photo by tofuprod on Flickr
If you’re worried about dipping your toes into eel-infested culinary waters too soon, try some of the fast-food options–like those I talk about in my blog on MOS Burger!