ISO unagi hitsumabushi


Real unagi (Japanese eel) is getting harder and harder to find at all, not to mention in hitsumabushi form. I cannot recall the last time I was served unagi as part of a sushi omakase (anago yes, but unagi)…

Now an endangered species, scientists didn’t even know where Japanese eels spawned until the last decade. Hopefully, elucidation of its life cycle will result in a better future…

I was always told (by more than one top sushi chef) that unagi is too fatty not typically served in traditional sushi omakase. Kinda like salmon.

Didn’t realize unagi were endangered myself.

That’s never stopped shokunin from serving up o-toro nigiri…

Or salmon nigiri or blue crab handrolls etc.

On the topic of o-toro, most of the sushi chefs I’ve asked usually prefer akami or chu toro themselves because those two cuts actually are more flavorful.

Btw, as of 6 months ago you could still get unagi sushi at Yasuda.

O-toro often draws the noobs in, while the subtleties of akami keep long-term sushiphiles fascinated… Honestly, experiencing the spectrum of flavors and textures, as well as the interplay of the various components/ingredients, are what I enjoy the most in sushi. It’s like a good book.

And the last time I recall unagi on a L.A. menu was Zo (DTLA) about 1 year ago.

One pretty good sushi chef I know badmouthed unagi. I knew he was wrong but don’t have the foundation to tell him why.

The problem with Japanese restaurants in the USA in general is that there are very few specialist places, and ones that have been doing something forever (ie 30 years or more) down the generations. Though for LA at least things are changing, but not everything. At least you guys have Tempura Endo now.

Traditionally unagi has always been one of the classic/greatest representatives of Edomae cuisine and existed separately from sushi omakase. Now, depending on geography and neighborhood these days, I’m guessing this could change to some extent. However I have yet to see unagi sushi in a Ginza-esque Edo style sushi restaurant (high end, Michelin or non Michelin) on tabelog, FB posts of friends who ate at nice sushi places in Tokyo, or blog posts and well known review sites of super high end places in Hong Kong (including Japanese outposts of Yoshitake, Iwa), or even in Taipei. Now for HK/Taipei places that cater more towards locals (or seeing the need to), neighborhood type joints, sushi boat/conveyor belt places, anything goes (including fusion).

Last visit to Osaka/Kyoto, if I wanted unagi, I had to go to unagi ryori/specialist restaurant, or those teishoku/set meal places in department stores that had it (along with jack of all trade type eats, but all excellent for what they are doing).
Did not see unagi offered at a high end Osaka sushi restaurant I went to (Sushisho Hirano).

On a side note, there is a book published in Japan called 江戸前の流儀 featuring Ono Jiro of Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tetsuya Saotome of Tempura Mikawa Zezankyo, and Godaime Nodaiwa (unagi ryori high end specialist restaurant), each representing the Edomae cuisine greats.

Anago has always been an Edomae sushi ingredient back in the day, just not unagi. As far as adoption into sushi restaurants, evolution of cuisine/needs of the business and clientele etc?

NHK aired a segment on unagi 3-6 months ago. Stocks are critically low. As JL mentioned, not much was known until recently about its life cycle. Seems no one was paying attention because it was always assumed that stocks were plentiful.

I think there was an issue when farming was considered. Either harvesting the eggs was difficult or the fry were extremely difficult to raise - can’t remember.

A chef (I think he was from the UK but working in Japan) was on a segment. He has been working in developing imitation unagi out of soy. Evidently, although the texture isn’t quite the same, the flavor was pretty much spot on.

Is there any place in LA or OC that serves really good unadon bowls?

I was craving this a while back but couldn’t find anything.

Inaba on Hawthorne in Torrance does a nice unadon. Haven’t had it in a two years though.


I had no idea unagi was being overfished.

this is one of the cool things about this forum.

i like oh-toro, though now that i think about it, when it’s served to me (i have an informal omakase understanding with my favorite chefs), it’s never straight oh-toro - i might get the scrapings off the inside of the skin, mixed with nagaimo, a little bit of shredded nori and a behind-the-counter shoyu mixture as a comped appetizer, or he’ll sear it to cook off some of the fat and adjust the taste and texture, or he’ll slice it across the grain so it has the chewy striations for texture. when he does take the time to cut out those striations, he’ll grill them separately and serve them with a little ponzu. fish bacon for a better way of describing it.

oh-toro is like wagyu beef, really rich, but more than about 6 oz and you hit critical mass. even then, you’re still better off bringing it back to an equilibrium with a bit of salt, acid and spice vs. eating it otherwise unadulterated. like adding yuzu-kosho to seared salmon belly. overall, like asian cuisine in general, sushi is about balance, not just in each plating, but overall as a meal.

as for unagi, i’ve always preferred anago, partly for the smokiness of the sauce which told me that the chef did the cleaning himself since he then had the skeleton to grill to add to sauce, partly because the chef managed to achieve an almost fluffy texture i’ve not had with other chefs.

i liked unagi the movie. same guy who did tampopo and shall we dance.

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Awesome, awesome food film.

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If any of you are ever in San Francisco Bay Area, Yayoi Teishoku restaurant, a branch out of Tokyo, just opened up in Palo Alto recently.

They have the unagi hitsumabushi set on the menu!


Oh, my…

marked; evidently they have a lot of other stuff on the menu?

Thanks looks great, it’ll be on my list for my next trip.

The Unagi Hitsumabushi is $22. This is in downtown Palo Alto, and prices on the average are on the high side. Tons of foot traffic, so expect a wait unless you make a reservation. Compared to many Japanese restaurants in the area that also do set courses (or try to), Yayoi is much much more solid in execution and remarkable. Some extra ultra thin nori shreds on the side would have been great for this. I forgot to add sansho to my “mix” for the picture, that really does make a world of difference with the citrus and spice notes The combination of eel, rice, egg, scallion, wasabi, sansho, dashi…evokes a killer feeling of comfort on top of the deliciousness, almost like a chazuke but different.

Guessing they used frozen unagi kabayaki packets from China, but the execution overall was solid enough that I deem this fit for Japanese expat tastes (at least the ones living in SF Bay Area :slight_smile: ).

Yes they have other set meals that are also quite delicious.

But you guys have Yazawa and Endo!

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I made sure to grab a bite in Osaka.

Found a vendor at Kuromon Market who did their own.


Wow. It’s pretty damned rare that the answer to “where can I get this hard-to-find dish” is “downtown Palo Alto.”