When we go to Japan, we get so excited about all the delicious food we are going to have… Out all the “must eat” list, there was one particular dish that we especially looked forward to having: Grilled Eel from Shizuoka! We did not eat any grilled eel the entire Summer, so that we will not ruin the fabulous eel lunch. There is this cute little Japanese restaurant on the top of a hill, seems like in a middle of nowhere, called Tagaya.
Even though Tagaya offers other old-fashion or traditional Japanese dishes, they are most famous for their eel. The sign for eel is bigger than the name of their restaurant! The word eel in Japanese is Unagi, and the letter for “U” in Japanese is “う” – in which they designed the alphabet with swimming eel, kind of cute.
As I mentioned, they are on a top of a hill, or rather, on the way up to the mountain. From the parking lot, you get to see this gorgeous view of the tea fields and the city down below. Just look at this beautiful green fields!!! They also have a train rail that goes below the tea field, and if you are lucky, you get see the old-fashioned steam locomotive train passing by!
We noticed this interesting fans around the tea field everywhere. When we inquired about it, we were told that it is for the tea to stay dry, mainly to keep the tea leaves from getting frost on it. How interesting…
After enjoying the view, we went inside the restaurant. The inside is no-frill, felt more like visiting an old home of a relative in a country side. Very warm and cozy. Since we had a reservation, the staff took us to our table immediately with a smile.
We had a private room, with an amazing view of the outside. All that we saw in their parking lot, we were able to see them from the room. How awesome is that! I heard that they are super busy during Fireworks event. I am sure the view of fireworks from here would be amazing. It is an old-fashioned tatami floor. We took our shoes off and sat on the floor cushion.
The staff brought us some hot tea, which was complementary. Shizuoka is known for their green teas, so of course they were great. But, if the customer happens to be one of the other local tea farmers, I am sure you will be hearing them say “our tea is better.” LOL
I poured the tea for everyone and it was time to sip the excellent green tea and relax. Nothing like a delicious hot green tea to sooth your soul and inspire a good conversation. And, since we all know what we were going to have, we didn’t even look at the menu.
Their grilled eel is popular among the locals as well, and I love those spots that have the local’s votes. We ordered their Unajū (2,570 yen/regular). They have an option for a larger portion, but we just needed regular size. It is quality that we wanted, not quantity anyways. It comes with pickles, soup and a side dish. The eel came in a beautiful rectangle lacquered box, known as “jūbako.” There was a small packet of special spice on the box.
And look how beautiful it looks… only if I can add the delicious scent on this blog… In the US, restaurants that offer grilled eel over rice will do so in a bowl, making it “Unadon” rather than Unajū. The difference between the two is that Unajū is served in the jūbako instead of in a bowl. It makes the dish to have superior appearance, elevating the common dish to something more luxurious.
The eel fillets were grilled to perfection, with glossy, shiny, tangy sauce cuddling them. They are prepared in the typical Kabayaki style, glazed with a sweetened soy-based sauce and grilled over charcoal. They pour extra sauce on the top, which seeps through the rice underneath, making the dish extra tasty. I added the packet of special spice, Sansho on top, and went right in! The eel was just amazing… The exterior, especially the skin side had nice crunchy texture, while the inside was soft and juicy. It was almost fluffy! The sauce was excellent as well, nice sweetness without being too sweet, it was tangy so that it held onto the eel well. The whole thing was simply divine. Yes it was worth the wait, we were super happy to have the eel from here.
The homemade pickles that came with the dish was great too. It added contrasting texture and flavor from the sweet eel. They had nice crispness, refreshing salty flavor. It was almost like a pallet cleanser. The side dish was mozuku. It is a type of seaweed, and it has unique texture, and you eat them as if you are eating cold noodle. It is just refreshing and feels like they are cleansing you from the inside.
Then the soup. Let me talk about the soup… It is called the Kimosui, or clear liver soup. At a professional eel restaurant, they get the whole eel fish. They clean the fish, removing all the internal organs. They don’t throw away the organs, instead, they use them for the soup. Even thought the soup only has the word “liver” but it is more than that. It has stomach, liver, and intestine all attached. Why would they put such thing in a soup? Well, because it is very, highly nutritious. It is rich in vitamins, protein, folic acid and iron. They offer benefits like sustaining stamina or recovering from fatigue. It also helps with your tired eyes, and even some beauty benefits. This soup is not something that you can get just anywhere… If you have the chance to have the soup and are brave enough to try it, you should definitely try it!
We had a great lunch here, amazing food and magnificent view. The staffs were really nice and warm, and most of all, we had great company. It is always a plus to share an amazing meal with the people you love. I am sure we will go back to Tagaya the next time we get to go visit Shizuoka. Until then, I will be dreaming about their fluffy eel…!
Tagaya – 1703-1-3 Kanayafujimicho, Shimada, Shizuoka Prefecture 428-0034, Japan