“Going to Nagoya and not eating Hitsumabushi is like going to Rome and not seeing the Colosseum.” This is what my boyfriend said when we were going to Nagoya. The kind of advice that cannot be ignored.
But what is Hitsumabushi?
Put simply it is a bowl of rice covered with eel grilled with a sauce made of soy sauce and sake. Might sound not so special but there are some other things to know. To understand what is exactly Hitsumabushi let’s do a bit of distinctions. First the eel, there are two types of eel, the sea eel, called anago and very popular in the area of Hiroshima, and the river eel, called unagi, more expensive and valuable than the sea eel and loved virtually anywhere.
The Hitsumabushi is prepared with river eel.
Another thing to know is that there are two great “schools” in Japan about the unagi preparation technique. The Kanto school in Tokyo and the Kansai school in Osaka.
There are differences in the preparation according to the two schools. First difference is the way the eel is cut, according to the Tokyo school the first cut is done on the back while the Osaka school prefers the front. Another difference is in the cooking, Kanto school does an initial grilling, then the eel is steamed and finally back on the grill for the final part. The chefs of Osaka instead never use steam. This difference causes the unagi in Tokyo to be both lighter and more delicate in flavor because it loses fat during steaming whilst the preparation of Osaka is more dense and crisp because it remains on the grill for longer.
The Nagoya version, the Hitsumabushi, is a mix between the preparations of the two main schools. The eel for Hitsumabushi is cut using the method of Tokyo but cooked following the method of Osaka.
The peculiarity of the plate, however, is not so much in the preparation but in the etiquette to eat it.
The bowl of eel and rice is served accompanied by some side dishes such as wasabi, spring onions, nori seaweed and broth.
Here’s the sequence to follow to enjoy the Hitsumabushi like an authentic Japanese would:
First divide your portion into four parts .
Move the first portion in your bowl and taste it without adding anything.
The second portion should be enjoyed with the addition of wasabi, spring onions and nori seaweed in the quantities that you prefer.
The third portion is eaten by adding broth or tea, like a soup. If you like you can add wasabi, spring onions and seaweed also the third portion.
The last portion can be enjoyed at your leisure in one of three. I have eaten mine without adding anything because I think it was already delicious.
What about you, what would you choose?
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