Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Unagi in Kagoshima

Almost every guide book on Kagoshima pointed visitors to Unagi no Sueyoshi restaurant as one of the must-go places to eat. This 80-year-old restaurant specializes in Kabayaki Unagi, or grilled freshwater eels which were sourced from the nearby Osumi Peninsula. In fact I didn’t know it’s one of the biggest production areas for this famous Japanese ingredients until I started to plan my trip, apparently with the underground water best suited for eel farming.

It’s rather late by the time I managed to drop off my suitcase in the hotel and made a short walk down to the restaurant, located in the Tenmonkan district not far away from the landmark Yamakataya Department Store. But still the restaurant was filled to the capacity, mostly with locals having enjoying their late lunches. The décor was rather simple like a family-style shukudo diner, with open kitchen near the entrance and chairs and tables further back.

I don’t remember whether they got English menu but it’s hardly necessary. For meal sets, there’s only the choice of Unaju, one served in a layered lacquer box with eel and rice in separate sections, or Una-don, the rice bowl with grilled eel placed directly on top. Each types came with three different price points (called Matsu, Take and Ume respectively), differed by the size of the grilled eel served, and they all came with pickles and miso soup. There’s also the additional a la carte option of grilled eel  (either Kabayaki or shirayaki, with or without the sauce), Kimoyaki (the eel liver skewer) and drinks.

I ordered the Unaju Matsu, which was the biggest portion, with a side of kimoyaki. It came with very generous portion – it’s probably the whole eel cut into four and filled the entire lacquer box with a gentle glaze of the sweet sauce and an enticing aroma of smokiness, from the binchotan charcoal fire used to cook the eel at the open kitchen in the front. I haven’t had a decent Unagi meal for a while and this is definitely one of the best in recent times. It’s somewhat an urban legend that eel was prime during summer months but in fact it’s the fattiest in winter, and the one I had was succulent on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside with a rich taste from the basting sauce. The sauce has just the right touch of sweetness – normally eel was to be eaten with sprinkles of sansho pepper, but I felt here it’s just as good even without.

The skewer of kimoyaki came almost at the same time, and again, it came with a very generous portion with the liver and guts, and with an even more distinct charcoal smokiness. And I love the texture too – cooked perfectly with the slightly soft center. There’s also another piece of eel liver in the bowl of miso soup as well. This is no doubt my favorite meal of Kagoshima and the guide books are right – this is indeed a must-go!

When? January 11 2018
Where? Unagi no Sueyoshi, 14-10 Higashi Sengoku-cho, Kagoshima, Japan
うなぎの末よし 鹿児島県鹿児島市東千石町14-10
Menu Highlights? Grilled freshwater eel
Web: http://seitengai.com/sueyoshi/

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