Hitsumabushi is a regional cuisine made with eel that is eaten mainly in the Nagoya area.
Eel kabayaki is chopped into small pieces and placed on top of rice, which is served in a small ohitsu (container for cooked rice), and is eaten in 3 different ways. It is called Hitsumabushi because the rice and the topping are mixed. The name hitsumabushi comes from the word 'mamushi,' which means rice topped with eel in the Kansai area. In Nagoya, both names are used (the dominant view is that 'mabushi' comes from the word 'mabusu,' which means to scatter around. On the other hand, it can also be considered as a corrupted pronunciation of 'mamushi').
The kabayaki is made in the Kansai style, by only broiling the eel without steaming. Therefore, the well-browned skin is crunchy and the fatty flesh alone becomes tender and fluffy.
Hitsumamushi is said to have started within Nagoya City during the Meiji Period, and the restaurant that originally began serving this dish is said to be either 'Atsuta Horaiken' in Atsuta Ward or 'Ibasho' in Naka Ward (Nagoya City).
Osaka and Mie are introduced by the media as the areas where this dish first appeared.
Hitsumabushi is served in a rice tub, because, in the beginning, the dish was served in individual ceramic bowls, just like at other eel specialty restaurants. However, young workers at the restaurant often broke the bowls when collecting the bowls after they delivered the food by them. Therefore, it is said that there was a need to serve the food in containers that could withstand rough handling and provide a large number of servings at once. It is said that the reason for chopping the eel was to serve the eel in equal amounts when dishing out the rice from the rice tub, or it was an attempt to make an efficient use of eels during the period of food shortages after the war.
The name for the dish became a registered trademark of 'Atsuta Horaiken' in 1987. Therefore, 'Atsuta Horaiken' can call it 'hitsumabushi', but all other restaurants have to call it 'hitsumamushi'.
The way to eat Hitsumamushi
Rice is served with chopped eel on top, and a rice paddle is used to divide the rice by making an 'X' in the rice. Then, it is eaten in three ways described below, in order.
First, the rice is portioned out into the bowl, and it is eaten as it is.
Then, the second serving is portioned out, and it is eaten with relishes (wasabi, seaweed, mitsuba (Japanese wild parsley), and so on). Basic relishes are scallions, wasabi horse raddish and seaweed, which are three items that go well with eel. The dish is eaten while the diner enjoys each of these flavors.
The third dish is served like the second dish, but with tea (sencha, Japanese green tea) or broth (depends on the restaurant) poured over it, and it is eaten simply like chazuke (rice soaked with green tea). It is said that this manner of eating was invented to provide a tasty way to eat eel whose quality has degraded.
The last serving is eaten in the way the diner favors the most among 1 to 3.