Food: Unagi!

Trip taken: 2007

My last night here in Tokyo and I had a few thousand yens left to spend. During the day I took the day to go to the onsen in the mountains. I got back in the city just in time for dinner. Sitting in my hostel bed, I tried to figure out what to do from there. I tried most of the places around the hostel and I besides the extravagant sushi dinner from a few nights ago, I ate pretty frugally. With my pocket full of yen, I look into my guidebook for some kind of inspiration.

Mikuniya was a billed as a pleasant place to try Unagi. Unagi was one of the types of Japanese foods I haven’t yet tried in Japan. I have tried sushi, tempura, ikazaya, ramen, and various street foods. In my mind, unagi is one of the staple Japanese foods that is usually a safe order if you aren’t sure about the quality of the fish and meat in a restaurant back in the US. After doing a little packing to work up my appetite, I set off on foot to the JR line station to head to Nihombashi station, which is where the restaurant was located.

Tokyo at night is very different from Tokyo during the day. During the day, you can visibly see the highrises and details in the architecture. At night, it’s all about lighting. Flashing neon signs to draw in customers or mood lighting to set the tone of a place. The city is alive with color of all shades and varities. Coming out of Nihombashi, it was the same. So it definitely took me a while to find the storefront with the wooden frame and dim lighting in front.

Inside the restaurant, it was actually pretty well-lit with some simple decorations. The waitress in a kimono presented me with the menu and I just ordered the expensive 3,500 yen meal. I wanted to finish using my money and didn’t want to exchange it. In hindsight, I should have just withdrawn less. You really can live pretty cheaply in Japan if you wanted to. Relatively speaking, of course. The waitress was courteous and left me to see the view. I heard a pair of women from Taiwan at a table next to me. I can tell by the accent.

The Unagi meal was presented in a bento box. It was a nine course meal. There were two pickle dishes, a sashimi course, a tempura course, a spicy root dish, a mochi like dish, miso soup, unagi, and a fruit dish. In Japanese style, everything was presented beautifully. The two pickle dishes were like other pickle dishes I had in Japan, which was just tasted okay. The spicy root dish was a good appetizer to get me in the mood to eat. The sashimi was just okay and it was definitely not as good as the ones at Magurobito or at Tsukiji Fish Market. However, it’s better than most sushi in the US. The mochi-like food in the leaf was not memorable. All I remember about it was how curious it was to be in a leaf. Tempura was good but not as Daikokuya in Asakusa district. The Unagi was definitely the highlight of the meal. It was tender, meaty, and with just enough fat left on the skin.

After cleaning my palate with the fruit plate, I took stock of the foods I have had in Japan. I definitely missed out on Oden and Sukiyaki, but I hope I have another trip to Japan in my future. I thanked my courteous hostess and left the restaurant. I walked around the small park that was next to the restaurant before I went back to Asakusa to sleep my last night at Sakura hostel.

I have tried to keep my blog posts out of any kind of temporal reference besides the post date, but I think I’m going to break that rule. To make the blog feel more personal and to give it some humanity instead of having it read like a guide book entry. Plus, I confuse a lot of people into thinking I’m at the places where I blog right now. Happy New Year my single digit readers! Hope you have a great beginning to 2010! I will post an interesting New Year’s story I have about Berlin next week.

Parting Words

An interesting fact about unagi that I heard from family is that most of the eel is imported from Taiwan. Supposedly, the eel is meatier and more succulent and the Japanese really enjoy it more. I do remember having lots of unagi when I was a child living in Taiwan. Maybe I’ll have to try it again when I go back.

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.