How Unagi Is Grilled Around the Country

Unagi is a meal that should also be eaten in Japan not just because of the freshness of the eel, but also because of the varying regional cooking styles that are unique to the country.

What is Unagi?

There are two kinds of eel typically eaten in Japan – anago and unagi. Anago is salt water eel that has a lighter taste and texture.

Unagi is freshwater eel that is packed with more nutrition, such as higher protein, vitamin A, and calcium. Because of its health benefits and heavier taste, unagi is typically eaten during summer months to boost stamina from the fatigue of Japan’s hot, humid days.


Different Regional Cooking Styles of Unagi

Unagi is typically prepared in similar ways throughout the country. Gutted, boned, butterflied, and marinated. It is the grilling method, locally called kabayaki, that differs.

Kanto-Style Unagi

Kanto consists of Tokyo and its surrounding neighbors, such as Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, and so on. In this area, unagi is butterflied or cut down the back, grilled, then steamed to get rid of the excess fat, and then quickly grilled again for flavor. This produces a tender, flaky eel.

Kansai-Style Unagi

Kansai consists of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and those southern-central neighbors. In this area, unagi is butterflied or cut down the belly and only grilled. The grilling process is longer to produce a crispier texture and bite.

Nagoya-Style Unagi

Nagoya grills the unagi in a similar method to Kansai’s style. The grilling allows the smoke and flames to add extra flavor and texture to the eel. The difference in this region is how they present and eat the unagi.

Hitsumabushi-style unagi originated in Nagoya with presenting 3 stages of eating unagi that is cut into small pieces and served over rice. First, simply eating the unagi over rice. Second, adding green onions and wasabi as garnishes. And third, adding more garnish, nori, and dashi broth into the bowl to make a rice porridge. Each stage highlights the different flavors and textures.

Photos from Hitsumabushi Bincho

With restaurants in Nagoya, Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka, Hitsumabushi Bincho serves Nagoya-style unagi that is grilled over bincho charcoal to impart that smoky oak flavoring. Aside from hitsumabushi, you can also order unagi meals with the rice on the side
For smaller portions and light eaters, the menu offers unadon – unagi served over rice in a rice bowl. This is typically presented in a round rice donburi bowl. You have a choice of how many pieces of eel over rice
For larger portions, you can also order unaju, or the eel box. Similar to unadon, unaju is served in a rectangular box with more pieces of eel served over rice. Because of the marinade sauce, unagi is tastier served directly over the steamed white rice


Hitsumabushi Bincho Addresses & Hours

7F Grand Front Osaka, South Building
4-20 Ofuka-cho, Kita-ku, Osaka
Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 3pm and 5pm to 9:30pm
Friday and Saturday, 11am to 3pm and 5pm to 10pm

12F Marronnier Gate
2-2-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 3pm and 5pm to 9:30pm
Friday and Saturday, 11am to 3pm and 5pm to 10pm

Nagoya Main Shop
5-176-1 Shimooguchi, Oguchi, Niwa-gun
Aichi, Nagoya
11:30am to 2:30pm
5pm to 8:30pm
Closed Mondays

Check out Hitsumabushi Bincho’s Main Website more branches in Nagoya, Tokyo, and Fukuoka


Sign up for my newsletter on the sidebar for blog updates and my travel insider tips!