Friday, July 27, 2012

Hey, it's Eel Day, man!

A nice flank of eel warming up.
Friday July 27, 9:42 p.m.

Around Earth, it may be the first official day of the Thirtieth Olympiad, but in little ol' Japan, it's Doyo no Ushi no Hi (土用の丑の日). But let's make it easy for ourselves, and call it Eel Day!
At around the end of July, a day is designated as the day to celebrate the eating of eel, an increasingly more expensive dish. It's said that the high content of oil in the flesh of the snaky fish provides a lot of stamina to get through the dog days of Summer, and the way it's sounding over there, those dogs are the size of mutant St. Bernards called Cujo.
So, folks in Japan will usually descend upon those restaurants specializing in eel cuisine during the day surrounding Eel Day to get their lacquered boxes of grilled eel slathered in sticky, savoury and sweet sauce topped on a bed of rice (una-don)...sometimes given a scattering of minuscule gold flakes. On normal days, a good box could cost about 3,000 yen. But with supplies of Japanese eel alarmingly low over the past couple of years, prices have gone up 20%-30%, and some eel restaurants have even tried to supplement very limited supplies of eel with other forms of meat such as pork slathered in the same sauce used for the eel.

My own una-don
Now on a teacher's salary, I never got a chance to go to a really good eel restaurant, so whenever Eel Day comes by, I just hit the supermarket and buy a package of pre-sauced eel and just warm it up in the frypan. Then I just heat up the rice and put the two together. The pack of eel comes with a small packet of extra sauce and seasonings. As you can see on the left here, what it lacks in finesse is more than compensated in quantity and taste. Maybe the eel connoisseurs may have pooh-poohed my technique but it was good enough for me. I've been in love with eel on rice since I went to Japan in 1981, and I was taken to an eel restaurant. I could not believe that such a wonderful meal originated from a life form that looked like a snake.

I guess from now on, whenever the end of July passes, I will get that twinge in my stomach showing my longing for a good round of una-don. I don't think eel is too plentiful in these parts.