Eel Spearing at Setauket, 1845
Oil on canvas; 28 1/2 x 36 in. (72.4 x 91.4 cm)
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York (N-395.55)
Photograph: Richard Walker
The Benefits Of Eating Eel
Do you know that eels possess substances, best for rejuvenating the body which scientists worldwide have established?
I hope many of you readers out there are coping with the heat waves this summer. To survive the notoriously hot and humid summers, Japanese people have created several strategies throughout history. Many of you probably know that eel (unagi) is a delicacy in Japan. It's a tradition to delve into this tasty tantalizer on the midsummer day of the Ox, which falls on July 23rd, and on August 4th this year. But I bet few of you know that this season, the end of summer, is also a great time to enjoy unagi meals to help keep you healthy and cool. In this month's issue, I'll tell you more about this Japanese traditional powerhouse, unagi.
Beef Saturday"- The Origin of Eel Day
As I mentioned, it's customary to eat unagi , especially grilled ones, on specific dates, which we call "doyou-no ushi-no hi". Some of my non-Japanese friends are confused by this. They ask me "Why do Japanese eat eel on Beef Saturdays -" They mistakenly think that "doyou" means "Saturday", and that "Ushi" means "beef". In fact, in this case "doyou" means "the end of the season". Each season has its own "doyou". It usually lasts 18-days, but the summer one is especially important in Japan. We send summer greeting cards, "syochu mimai" during the summer doyou. According to the old calendar, the period is at the end of summer, but actually it's in the middle of summer. This is why we call doyou the "Midsummer Day" in English.
During the 18-days, each doyou has one or two "ushi-no hi", which is the day of the ox. It's named after one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. We have two "ushi-no hi" in the doyou period, and we call those days "doyou-no ushi-no hi", which translates to "the midsummer day of the ox" in English.
Now hopefully you understand that the meaning of Eel Day is not "beef Saturday". But you may be asking yourself, why have Japanese chosen to have eel on those dates- There are several stories to explain this phenomenon.
The most famous one is based on the following tale. During the Edo Period, an eel restaurant owner was struggling to balance his books as sales were down and customers were few and far between. He visited Gennai Hiraga, a famous scholar, to seek his advice. Gennai had a great idea. He advised the owner to put an ad out on the "doyou-no ushi-no hi", because people at that time for some reason believed they should eat dishes that had the letter "u" in order to survive the summer heat. As a result, the restaurant got a boost in business, and people started to enjoy grilled eel on the day.
Another famous story is based on another event during the Edo Period. An eel restaurant owner received a rush of orders one summer. He kept on broiling eels for three days, including the Rat, Ox and the Tiger Day, and preserved them until the day he needed them. After a few days, he discovered that the eel broiled on Ox Day was fine, but the ones broiled on the other two days tasted bad. The owner started to believe that the midsummer Ox Day is somehow good for broiling eel.
The Notable Nutrients in Unagi
Nutritionally speaking, unagi contains vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E, which are effective agents for rejuvenating the body in summer. Among them, vitamin B1 is especially easy to loose in sweat, several minerals and high quality protein, as well as unsaturated fatty acids like DHA and EPA are more abundant in unagi than in other seafood. The benefits of these unsaturated fatty acids have been vigorously researched and well documented. The following is a summary of the major health benefits of DHA and EPA: - Decreases cholesterol - Lowers blood pressure - Prevents vascular diseases - Reduces the risk of developing arthritis - Promotes normal brain development and nervous system function - Promotes good eyesight See- Now hopefully you understand why having unagi at the end of the summer is good for you.
Delectable Unagi Cuisine
The most common Unagi dish is "unagi no kaba-yaki", grilled eel. Skewered unagi is grilled with sweet basting sauce. It's difficult to make it in your kitchen, so most people buy it in stores. Commonly, grilled eel is served over steamed rice. Unagi doesn't contain vitamin C, so don't forget your green salad on the side. Unfortunately, this year, the price of eel is the highest it's been in five years. You may be shocked at the price tag even at a regular grocery store, but the health benefits are well worth the cost. Don't be a scrooge and get the stamina you need to recover from the unrelenting heat from your new friend, unagi.
How to Eat Eel
Eel is a dish not regularly found in Western cuisine, but eel is quite popular in many cultures because of its numerous health benefits. Eel is vitamin rich and you can prepare it in a variety of different ways.
Chirashizushi (ちらし寿司, "scattered sushi") is a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi and garnishes (also refers to barazushi). Edomae chirashizushi (Edo-style scattered sushi) is an uncooked ingredient that is arranged artfully on top of the sushi rice in a bowl. Gomokuzushi (Kansai-style sushi) are cooked or uncooked ingredients mixed in the body of rice in a bowl. There is no set formula for the ingredients and they are either chef's choice or sometimes specified by the customer. It is commonly eaten because it is filling, fast and easy to make. Chirashizushi often varies regionally. It is eaten annually on Hinamatsuri in March.
Tokyo eel, Kansai-style
Grilled eel keeps the summer heat away
A popular Japanese custom, said to help one overcome the sweltering summer heat, is to eat eel on the midsummer day of the Ox – which this year happens to be on Monday July 26. The Japanese have come up with a number of different ways to indulge in this particularly nutritious food, however – when it comes to the day of the Ox – the most popular dish to indulge in is almost certainly kabayaki (eel that’s been split, grilled and basted with a sweet soy-based sauce), which more often than not comes served as either unaju (rice topped with kabayaki, served in a lacquered box) or unadon (rice topped with kabayaki, served in a bowl). Something less commonly known is that kabayaki can be prepared in one of either two different styles – Kanto-style or Kansai-style.
In the Kanto region, the eel is split along its back, grilled without seasoning, steamed to remove any oily residues, and then grilled again – leaving it easy to break apart with chopsticks and so soft that it almost melts in your mouth. On the other hand, in Kansai, the eel is split along its stomach, basted with sauce and grilled as is – leaving its skin crispy, its meat soft and delicate to the touch, and giving it a more succulent and concentrated flavour.
Kanto-style eel has a texture and flavour that’s is no less delicious, but when it comes to chowing down on eel in the hopes that it will help you get through the summer heat, it’s Kansai-style eel – with its sweet aroma and firmer texture, that you should go for. We rounded up five places that do Kansai eel in a Kanto shop; with the heat baking Tokyo lately, be sure to make reservations beforehand to avoid disappointment.http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/995/Tokyo-eel-Kansai-style