Loading... Please wait...

Unagi-sabaki Eel knife

Unagi (eel) offers an antidote to the natsubatte fatigue and loss of appetite that grip many in the stifling, energy-sapping Japanese summer. Grilled unagi - stamina on a stick. 

However it's prepared, eel is a cultural favourite that's been enjoyed in high summer for at least a thousand years. There's even one day of summer when we're obliged to indulge in this delicacy - Natsu no Doyo no Ushi no Hi, day of the ox in the Chinese calendar, a movable feast which falls on a different date every year.

We can thank Hiraga Gennai for the tradition, apparently. Samurai and all-round scientific genius, he was also something of a marketing man who suggested to an eel seller that the day of the ox was a great selling opportunity - ushi and unagi both starting with the same sound. So obvious! And for a couple of hundred years Japanese have been following his advice the best way they know how. Together.

It's a time when television news laments the scarcity of eels in the Japanese archipelago, and reports on eel prices and the eel scandals that usually involve imported fish being labelled as locally sourced and priced accordingly. Eel restaurants around the country book out weeks ahead of the day. Supermarkets pull out all stops, flying giant inflatable eels over special grilled-eel stands in car parks; the fish and bento aisles can turn into a buyer frenzy. Prices skyrocket. Ahhh, Japan!

It's almost enough to make you want to do it yourself, and beginner to advanced this is the tool for the job.