Eat Unagi (Eel) in the midsummer “Doyo Ushi-no-hi” (Day of the Ox) on July 27 this year
Article by Risa Nakaya
In Japan, the relationships between the season and food is important and every traditional food has “Shun”, the best time to eat them. People admire the taste of Shun. The best season for eating Eel is July, which is known as the “Doyo Ushi-no-hi”, which means midsummer day of the ox.
Doyo refers to the period of 18-19 days preceding the change of seasons. Until 1873 in Japan, the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Cock, Dog, Boar) was used to distinguish the year, month, day, time and also direction. Therefore, the “Doyo Ushi-no-hi” means the Day of the Ox during the Doyo period.
Wild eels are in season from the end of autumn to December since the fat is stored to prepare for their hibernation in winter, the meat becomes tender and delicious. However, eels are rich in vitamins that are said to prevent summer fatigue, and now most eels are farmed, so it is reasonable to eat them in summer.
“Doyo Ushi-no-hi” started in middle of the 18th century in Edo (present Tokyo) by Gennai Hiraga, who is a famous inventor in Japan. One of Gennai’s friend, who had an eel restaurant, asked him how to boost his restaurant sales in summer season because there were no customers. Gennai got a hint from a folklore and said “by eating food which has the letter “u” in the beginning of the name, for example, eels (“Unagi” in Japanese), won’t suffer from the summer heat”, and advised him to put a sign on the front door that says “Today is Doyo Ushi-no-hi, the best moment to eat Unagi (eel)”. That made a big hit for his restaurant and spread Doyo Ushi-no-hi campaign all over Japan. You can still find the poster of “Doyo Ushi-no-hi” in every supermarket and Unagi restaurants even today. This has been a successful marketing strategy for a long period of time. So, how about trying various unagi dishes on the “Doyo Ushi-no-hi” on July 27 this year?
This is the most common cooking method in Japan. Skewer the meat from which the bones have been removed, dip it in Tare (salty-sweet sauce), and grill it. In the Kanto region, the eel is broiled without cooking, with the head cut off and then steamed, and then coated with sauce to become hon-yak, while in the Kansai region, the eel is broiled with the head cut open along its belly without steaming. In Kyushu, it is mainly broiled deep without steaming with the back cut.
“Tare” made by Shoyu, Mirin & sake gives the special taste of each restaurant and its proud. The fat of the eel and the soup of the meat will mix into the sauce and the flavor will gradually improve so some shops add little by little the ingredients and use same Tare stock more than hundred years.
Broiled without sauce. In the Kanto region, steamed once and then grilled again. It is eaten with Wasabi, grated daikon radish or ginger and soy sauce.
Unadon & Una-ju
A bowl of rice topped with kabayaki. When tableware is used in a jubako, it is called unaju. It is common to sprinkle sansho powder before eating.
It sucks up the internal organs of the stomach. It is often served with unadon or unaju.
Kimoyaki: Skewered stomachs of several fish, dipped in sauce and grilled.
Reference: “Do you know 丑の日?”