Yanagawa is about 1.5 hours train ride from Hakata, making it perfect for a day trip. There were two reasons why I put Yanagawa in our itinerary: one was the boat ride through the canals, and the other is the local speciality steamed unagi (eel) rice. After our 70 minutes boat ride, we were eager to eat some delicious eel rice for lunch!
Before I get into details, I thought it’s important to mention the difference between unagi-don and unagi no seiromushi. In general, a unagi-don is a bowl of rice topped with grilled eel and sauce drizzled on top. Of course, there are many ways to cook the eel, such as the Kanto style or the Kansai style. Unagi no seiromushi still contains the same components, but the grilled eel, the sauce and some finely shredded fried eggs are placed on top of semi-cooked rice in a bamboo box. Then everything gets steamed until the rice is fully cooked.
Unagi no seiromushi is a specialty in Yanagawa. And since our train and riverboat discount package came with a coupon for the restaurant Rokkyu, we decided to stop for lunch there. This restaurant had very traditional decor with both table and tatami settings. With a group of 7, we were only able to sit at a standard table.
The waitress told us that the coupon only applies to the unagi no seiromushi meals that come in the traditional bamboo box, and that the rice portion is the same for small, medium, and large meal size. The only difference is the number of grilled eel pieces in each box. Since we were planning to get desserts at our next location, we opted for the small set with 2 pieces of unagi, some pickled vegetables and a soup with eel liver.
Let’s start with the soup. It’s a clear broth with a mild flavor and I suspected that it’s made with eel parts. However, both the broth and the liver didn’t taste fishy at all, which was a pleasant surprise.
When the steamed eel rice arrived it smelled so good I almost dug in without taking photos! The unagi was not as fatty as I had imagined and the sauce tasted just a tad bit sweeter than the ones I’ve had in Vancouver. The eel was cooked over charcoal and looked quite caramelized but they were not dry at all. Each piece of unagi was about 2″ x 3″ in size.
While most would say the unagi was the star of this dish, for me it was the rice. Cooked with the grilled eel and unagi sauce, the rice absorbed all the flavours. It was simply delicious. I polished off every grain of rice in the bamboo box.
The original price of this unagi no seiromushi set meal is ¥1,850 but we saved ¥100 with our coupon. So lunch was about $20 CAD per person. A pretty good price for cook-to-order unagi meal. Next time I’m in Kanto or Kansai area, I’ll have to try unagi-don to compare the different eel cooking methods!