Grilled unagi, or freshwater eel, is a popular dish to be enjoyed year round, all over Japan. It can be prepared kabayaki style, or grilled, placed of a bed of rice in a lacquerware box and be called “unaju.” These preparations depend on the eel being warm, which means just off the grill. Yet there is life after grilling for unagi, with one of the more well-known incarnations being call “uzaku.”
If you ask you Japanese from outside the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, and environs), they may not know what you are talking about, as uzaku is a name used primarily in this region’s dialect. While the name may have not, the dish has permeated Japanese cuisine across the land. Quite different from the typical grilled versions described above, uzaku is served cold, and dressed to kill. Or at least excite.
Uzaku starts with kabayaki eel, left to cool down. It is then cut up into small, bite sized pieces and mixed with none other than thin slices of cucumber. Not sounding exciting yet? It’s how you doll up the cucumber and eel that really makes for a different taste experience. First you add in some hand-torn bits of shiso leaf, and then some “myoga,” which is a mild variety of soft ginger (the buds and immature roots are used) found in Japan and parts of Korea and China. From here, a little sugar, vinegar, a touch of salt and some water are all that’s needed to bring the medley together.
While each ingredient of uzaku on its own is not particularly compelling to most people, the mix of the sweet ginger, distinctive shiso leaf, cucumber, and of course eel, makes for a very pleasing combination. Uzaku proves the point that eel is not just something to be grilled and eaten straight away!
Looking to try uzaku in Tokyo?
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