There is a day known as “doyo no ushi no hi” that is the nominal hottest day of the year, towards the end of summer. It is on this day that, in a tradition dating back to the Edo era, people celebrate the impending relief from summer heat by eating eel. Mind you, it’s still very hot on this day, but it is believed that the following couple of weeks will bring a break in the heat, then duly usher in autumn.
But back to the heat. It’s very, very hot in the middle of summer in most of Japan. It’s not a dry heat either. If you’re not careful, you are liable to fall victim to great fatigue due to the heat. Deleterious effects are numerous, but catching colds, and becoming downright exhausted to the point of not wanting to go on are common occurrences. Enter: The eel. Unagi (fresh water eel) is thought to alleviate the bodily pressures associated with this scorching time of year.
While the idea seems to have been dreamed up in some sort of Edo era public relations coup (eel wasn’t selling well during mid-summer), later research has conveniently proven that the advertiser’s premise was spot on. Apparently, eating eel does indeed help your body cope with summer better.
To be sure, there are far worse medicines to take than that lovely grilled fillet of eel on top of rice (unaju), or a slightly different grilling approach as can be seen with kabayaki eel. If neither of these delectable dishes are within your reach, consider umaki (egg and eel, together as one) or uzaku, which is eel with cucumber and a small cast of other flavors.
Next time the heat is getting to you, think eel. It just may be the most delicious remedy for exhaustion you’ll ever employ.
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