Kitchen Culture

tasty tidbits from the old-fashioned Japanese Kitchen


Restaurants in Japan often announce their specialty by hanging a fluttering hata (flag, pictured left) or noren (short curtain, pictured below) just outside their entrance.

Designs vary but most incorporate the graceful curve of a slithery eel to form the syllable “u.” The sign above says simply:


Japanese eel

In Japan, the first mention of beating the heat by eating eel was in the Manyoshu, a collection of 8th century poems. The current custom, however, of consuming eel specifically on doyō ushi no hi probably began during the Edo period. One story has it that Gennai Hiraga (1726-1779), a playwright, natural scientist, and Edison-like inventor (in Japan, he is credited with making a hand operated generator and a thermometer), was responsible.

Then, as today, restaurants would ask famous customers to write a few words of praise that the shop could display. Perhaps in jest, Hiraga wrote that eating the restaurant's excellent eel that day -- it just happened to be doyō ushi no hi -- had restored his waning energy. His comment certainly energized the mid summer eel fishing industry!

unajū (left) and unadon (right)
doyō ushi no hi


Days calculated by the old-fashioned lunar-based koyomi, change each year. In 2016, the "pre-autumn" (doyō) "ox day" (ushi no hi) falls on JULY 30. Consumers eagerly look forward to special doyō ushi no hi promotions at department store food halls, supermarkets, and local shops.

In addition to the classic dishes pictured above, a refreshing summer salad is also enjoyed.
CLICK HERE to download a recipe

Grilled Eel, Cucumber & Summer Herb Salad

鰻ざく    Uzaku