Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

Japanese Food, Unagi: Why You Must Try Some In Tokyo


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Copley S.

Im 3 - Japanese Food, Unagi: Why You Must Try Some In Tokyo

The people of Japan have a distinct way of making food. If you’ve ever watched a YouTube video on Japanese chefs making the food you’ll know they use skill and precision in preparing their dishes. This is probably why Japan is one of the top travel destinations in the world and we want to discuss a unique Japanese food item you may not have considered eating: Unagi.


If you’re planning a trip to this stunning destination that makes the best Japanese food, why not visit Tokyo first? There are myriads of things to do in Tokyo, Japan. But most notably you will adore the way they make Japanese food. One of Japan’s famous dishes is called Unagi. It’s the finest Japanese food you’ll ever taste. But why is this dish loved so much in this tranquil and colorful country? Here we will delve into what Unagi is and why you simply must try it when you visit Japan.


What Is Unagi?

Unagi on plate

Photo by Lifeforstock


The word Unagi means eel in Japanese. It’s a freshwater eel that’s used in different Japanese dishes. It’s often confused with saltwater eel which translates to anago in Japanese. The freshwater eel is preferred in making Japanese cuisine because it’s much sweeter than anago.


Its bones are tender and small enough to eat with the meat of the eel. Unagi is typically served as nigiri which is the way the eel is cut (in portions) and served with rice. This Japanese food has a rich flavor with a tantalizing crispy texture on the outside with succulent meat on the inside.


The Japanese eel is caught rather than bred in tanks and the size of the eels can vary. But the most common sizes are between 12″ and 20″ in length. The eel is rich in vitamins A and E & it’s full of protein.


There are many ways the Japanese prepare Unagi but it’s typically cut into fillets and then grilled over hot coals. The Unagi will be steamed to remove any fat from the fish. Before grilling it a second time the Unagi is basted in a sweet soy sauce. The duration of the grilling will determine how crispy the Unagi will be. This process of making Japanese food is known as Kabayaki.


Why Is Unagi A Loved Dish In Japan And Around the World?

This delicious Japanese delicacy is prized not only for its decadent taste but also for its stamina giving properties. But did you know the Japanese have a particular day for eating Unagi? This day is known as Doyo no Ushi no Hi which means The Day of the Ox (on the lunar calendar).


The Day of the Ox is considered to be the hottest day of the year. The Japanese advise that when the days are hot you should eat Unagi because it has many health benefits. When suffering from heat fatigue there’s no better remedy than eating Japanese eel.


Japanese people believe that Unagi helps to replenish your appetite during hot summer days. It’s also known to give you energy when you’re feeling sluggish from the heat. These are excellent reasons to eat this delectable Japanese dish.


If you’d like to celebrate Unagi day, why not visit Japan in the summer months? This year Unagi day falls on the 27th of July. So you can be sure to find any restaurant in Japan that will whip up this Japanese food for you in no time.


Japanese food on a plate

Photo by Lifeforstock


Eating Unagi For The First Time

If you’re eating this Japanese food for the first time in Tokyo, Japan you can expect different preparation techniques of the dish. You’re bound to enjoy every delicious bite no matter the preparation style of the Unagi. After all, Japanese food is like an art. Japanese food is always prepared with the utmost dedication so you can have a spectacular experience while enjoying this cultural dish.


Here are the most common ways Unagi can be served in restaurants. You can try different variations of the dish but they’ll all have the same decadent and rich flavors.


4 Types Of Unagi Dishes



The Japanese eel is deboned and cut into fillets. The portions of Japanese food are placed on a skewer and then grilled over hot coals. As mentioned before, the fillets are steamed to remove the fat. They’re then dipped in a sticky sweet soy sauce many times during the grilling process. Basting the eel several times and grilling it slowly gives the eel it’s crispy & sticky texture. Having Kabayaki is much easier to eat as it comes on a stick. Rice accompanies this Japanese dish in most restaurants. 




You can enjoy a Kabayaki eel inside a roll soaked in the egg. This is almost like French toast but with thicker slices. They prepare the eel with the same grilling process of basting and steaming & then placing it in the middle of the egg roll.




This is a grilled eel liver that’s cut into small bite-sized portions and put onto a skewer. This Japanese food is served either salted or dipped in sweet soy sauce.




The eel is prepared by grilling the meat but without any basting sauce. This type of eel is served with plain soy sauce or wasabi.


Some Facts About Unagi Cuisine

The process for preparing this Japanese food differs between Western and Eastern Japan. The steaming technique before grilling the Unagi several times derives from the Eastern part of Japan. People in Western Japan prefer to not steam their Unagi but to rather grill the eel for longer periods.


Basting the Unagi is what gives the dish its rich and decadent flavor but different restaurants in Japan have their very own unique recipe for their sauces. The sauce also contains mirin which appeared in the Edo period. Mirin is a type of rice wine that’s similar to sake. Its sweetness comes from the fermenting process of the rice.


The charcoal used to grill the Japanese food is also essential as it adds a unique smokey fragrance and taste. Charcoal is used to grill Unagi. They make charcoal from hard oak that comes from Wakayama which is the central part of Japan.


Final Thoughts

When you go to Tokyo, Japan, try as many cultural dishes as you can. But to truly experience the tradition of Japanese dishes this Japanese food should be at the top of your list. After all, it’s been part of traditional Japanese food for over 1000 years.