It was my first experience to eat unagi (grilled eel) not in unaju style but in an out-of-the-box concept. The dish is called ‘hitsu-mabushi’ and is from Nagoya Prefecture. Hitsu means ‘wooden rice bowl’ and mabushi means ‘to scatter’.
Fukinuki at Kagurazaka, Tokyo, is famous for this dish. They also use domestically grown eel. Upon hearing my order I was told to wait for a while – eel is grilled after the order is made; rice is rinsed and cooked upon receiving the order. After waiting for a while in the quiet dining room I was thrilled to catch subtle but noticeable smell of cooking.
The waiter brought the dish in one tray to my table. A round rice bowl filled with rice and sliced, grilled eel; small dishes with freshwater nori, sliced scallion and wasabi; lightly flavored dashi in a little ceramic jar; pickled vegetables; soup with eel liver. Ceramic rice bowl and chopsticks.
This is how I was instructed to enjoy hitsu-mabushi.
1. Divide the eel with rice into quarter portions.
2. Transfer one portion of the rice and eel to a ceramic rice bowl. Sprinkle some sansho and enjoy it in the traditional unaju-style.
3. Transfer the second quarter portion of the eel and rice to the empty ceramic rice bowl. Sprinkle Some of the nori and scallions over the eel and rice. Toss the rice and eel with the added ingredients and enjoy.
4. Transfer the third quarter portion of the eel and rice to the empty ceramic bowl. Add some of the remaining nori and scallion, and wasabi to the bowl. Pour the lightly flavored dashi into the bowl, stir the mixture lightly and enjoy it in an ‘ochazuke style’.
5. Transfer the last quarter portion of the eel and rice to the empty ceramic bowl. Finish the last eel and rice in the way which you liked the best. I went back to the Unaju-style.
The point of ‘hitsu-mabushi’ is that diners can enjoy grilled eel and rice in different ways. At Fukunuki eels are slaughtered every morning. This produces the texture of the grilled eel silky tender. On your next trip to Japan try hitsu-mabushi.