Friday, September 26, 2014

Mouthwatering Unaju From Kanetaya

"Japanese eel is said to be 
the most expensive fish in Japan"
Froese and Pauly 2011

Golden-brown and spitting hot unagi fillet, served over rice as unaju, in square lacquer-look box.

Unagi, or eel may sound like a foreign ingredient to most of us who are not familiar to Japanese cuisine. However, when unagi is served, it always looked like a typical fish fillet to me. To be honest however, I find it hard to connect the dots between the snake-looking fish in the water, and the "fish" I was eating. For better or for worse, that experience did not stop me enjoying unagi all these years.  The combination of delicious warm rice and glistering sweet caramel-like unagi sauce (we call it "unagi no tare") over the perfectly grilled unagi is simply irresistible.

For those of you who pays visit to sushi restaurants from now and then, unagi sushi or anago sushi (salt-water eels) should be a common menu you find there. However, the satisfaction from eating freshly-grilled unagi on top of warm rice is completely a different and incomparable experience. The aroma of the sauce is more than enough to make anyone's mouth water.

Kametaya - a restaurant that specializes on traditional Japanese cuisine.

Our lunch during the second tour of Chiba Kun Ambassadors took us to a traditional Japanese restaurant - Kanetaya. We had two options to choose - between the unaju or makunouchi bento. It was a pretty straight-forward choice between the two; I opted for the former. As is standard practice, it is served either in a two-tiered lacquer container with the rice separate; laid on top of the rice in a fancy square or rectangular box - unaju (うな重); or on rice in a wide bowl - unadon (うな丼).

This style of cooking is called kabayaki (蒲焼き), similar to teriyaki (照 焼き). It is a very typical way to prepare unagi but other fish that can be prepared the same way as well.  Basically the fish is split down the back (or belly), gutted and boned, butterflied, cut into square fillets, skewered, and dipped in a sweet soy sauce based sauce before broiled on a charcoal grill. In the Tokyo region, the skewered eel is first broiled without the sauce, and we call it shirayaki (白焼き). Then the unagi are steamed, before being dipped in the sauce and grilled again.

Here comes our scrumptious unaju set. They come in several sizes - jyo (上), nami (並), matsu (松), take (竹), ume (梅), etc. This nami unaju cost 2,000 yen.

Side dish which tastes very much like the Chinese shumai, but with an interesting twist; notice how they made the skin with sliced wonton wrappers, topped with a dash of chopped ginger and boiled green mustard.

Colourful pickles made of radish and green mustard.

The Shoukadou (松花堂) makunouchi bento, or traditional Japanese lunchbox, is a highly lacquered wooden box divided into quadrants, 
each of which contains different delicacies - fish, meat, pickles, eggs and vegetables along with rice and an umeboshi.

Freshwater eel, especially when broiled in the savory kabayaki style, is credited with the marvelous ability to provide energy in face of the debilitating heat of mid-summer. Unagi is rich in vitamins A and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. From Edo Period (1600-1850), the Japanese have a tradition to eat unagi on a particular mid-summer day called doyō-no ushi-no-hi (土用の丑の日) in order to gain stamina from the hot summer heat.

Finally, our highly anticipated unaju made its entrance. Like everything else here, it is simple and just as good as you would expect. The melting-soft texture of the fish is basted with a rich, savory tare sauce that oozes into the rice. A dash of color and texture is provided by the small saucer of pickles.

For dessert, we got a pleasant surprise as we were served a special home-made black beans castella (黒豆カステラ). One word to describe it - orgasmic!


Each of us were given a little token of souvenir after our satisfying meal - an origami with the lyrics of a Japanese folk song.

Thank you for reading, and do make it a point to drop by this restaurant if you are looking for palatable Japanese cuisine in this area of Chiba.

Kanetaya (金田屋)
Address: 3692 Ajiki, Sakae City, Imba Gun, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (千葉県印旛郡栄町安食3692)
Opening Hours: 11:00 - 22:00
The second Wednesday of every month
Reservation: Available
Website: (Japanese only) 

Tel: 0476-95-1105    Fax: 0476-95-8855
Parking: Available (40 spaces)
Access: From JR Awaji Station on JR Narita Line, walk for 12 minutes; Car: 20 minutes (15 km) from Narita Interchange. 

※ Free shuttle bus available for groups more than 10 peoples.

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