One of my favorite foods ever is Hitsumabushi. I do really enjoy eating Japanese eel whenever I can in Japan, as Unagi Sushi, Unagi Don (Unagi bowl), Unaju (Unagi rice) or in any other form that Japanese freshwater eel is served there are countless Unagi eel dishes. Grilled eel, steamed eel, cooked eel. You get the idea.
There really are many places across the country where eel in all its forms is prepared exquisitely, but nothing can top the signature dish Hitsumabushi in Nagoya.
If you want to find out about other Nagoya signature dishes also known as Nagoya Meshi, check out my Nagoya Food Guide.
Hitsumabushi originated in the Meiji Period in Nagoya when waitresses served the sliced eel with rice from big tubs for keeping cooked rice which ware called Ohitsu. Which is where the name comes from.
The preparation process of Hitsumabushi is also different from other places around Japan. The eel is sliced open at the belly and grilled whole without steaming it.
How to Enjoy Hitsumabushi in Nagoya
The preparation isn’t the only thing special about Nagoya Hitsumabushi. It is actually the eating procedure which makes the whole dish so special and so delicious.
When you order Hitsumabushi you will get a tray, the main feature is of course the bowl filled with rice and topped with eel. There is often a layer of shredded nori between the fish and the rice.
There will also be a second, smaller bowl which is empty. A spoon, often made from wood, some condiments like green onions and wasabi as well as Japanese style pickles, called Tsukemono. You will also get a little pot, which might look like a teapot but can come in different forms and sizes.
After you have taken a couple of pictures (or maybe that’s just me) you devide your serving into 4 parts.
One fourth of your rice with eel is your first serving. Use the spoon to place it into your empty bowl. You enjoy the first serving as it is. Rice served with grilled eel in a rich and sweet sauce with a bit of nori.
For the second serving you add some condiments to your eel after you have placed the eel into your bowl. Condiments can be green onions, wasabi or sansho pepper. I love all of these on my Hitsumabushi. Try them, the flavor changes completely.
For your third serving you finally get to use the content of the little pot. It contains either a broth or green tea with which you make some delicious eel Ochazuke. You might think,
I love putting some extra wasabi into my Ochazuke to give it a little bit of an extra spice, but you can add whatever condiments you like.
The last serving is for you to enjoy however you like. I love Ochazuke with some condiments most and so this is usually my fourth and last serving. The Tsukemono pickles are for you to eat between servings.
Where to Eat Hitsumabushi in Nagoya
While there are many delicious foods I recommend you to try in Nagoya (more info on the best food in Nagoya on my Nagoya Food Blog) if you only have time to try one dish I would try Hitsumabushi.
Hitsumabushi Inou Eska
You don’t even have to leave Nagoya Station to try some very authentic and deliciously prepared Hitsumabushi at an Unagi restaurant. On the west side of Nagoya Station is the Esca Underground Shopping Street where you will find some of the best restaurants in Nagoya. One of them is Hitsumabushi Inou, a restaurant specialized in Hitsumabushi.
As I mentioned earlier, Hitsumabushi, the Japanese eel and rice dish, isn’t cheap and a full serving will cost around 30 US dollars. If this seems like a lot of money to spend on a dish you don’t even know you might want to share it or opt for a half portion which is also available.
HITSUMABUSHI INOU (ESCA SHOP)
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Address: 6-9 Esca Underground Shopping Street, Tsubakicho, Nakamura Ward, Nagoya 453-0015
Hitsumabushi Nagoya Bincho
Another option to try the Japanese eel dish is Hitsumabushi Bincho Nagoya. During lunch and dinner time this restaurant commands long lines, but it is definitely worth the wait. This restaurant has a long tradition and specializes in Hitsumabushi. You won’t be disappointed.
HITSUMABUSHI NAGOYA BINCHO (LACHIC)
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Address: Lachic 7th floor, 3-6-1 Sakae, Naka-ku, Nagoya 460-0008
And lastly, you should always remember: You are in Japan to make new and unique experiences. Trying grilled Unagi will be something you will remember from this trip to Nagoya. I definitely do remember my first time and have enjoyed Hitsumabushi many times since!
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In love with Japan and its amazing food, Lena wants to share her passion with the world. That’s why she started Nagoya Foodie. To teach about Nagoya, her adoptive home online through blog posts and offline through unique food tours.