Unagi (eel) (ウナギ)

Unagi is a general term used for a group of fish that belong to the order Anguilliformes family Anguilidae. It also refers to one species among them, Anguilla japonica (Japanese eel in English). In order to distinguish it from other fish that belong to genus Anguilla, it may be called Japanese eel.

Cooking methods such as kabayaki (eel broiled with sauce) and unagi donburi (bowl of rice topped with broiled eel) have been invented. It is a fish that has been strongly associated with Japanese food culture since the olden days. However, surprisingly, its ecology is not well understood, because it migrates back and forth between rivers and the sea, yet it also travels to some extent by crawling on land. Furthermore, even its spawning site had not been clearly understood by researchers until recently (it was discovered to be Suruga Bank in 2006), and details of eel ecology are still largely unknown.

Morphology
The adult fish is 1 m in length, the maximum being about 1.3 m. Its body is long and slender and it has a circular cross-section. Eyes are round and the mouth is big. Surface of the body is slimy because it is covered by mucous, but there are tiny scales underneath the skin. There are no ventral fins, but the dorsal, caudal and anal fins are connected, and they are located on the posterior part of the body. The body color is black on the dorsal side and white on the abdominal side, but the wild ones may have a dorsal side that's bluish green or grayish brown and an abdominal side that's yellow. In addition, adult fish that migrate to the sea for spawning develop a nuptial coloration of black and silvery white on the dorsal and abdominal sides, respectively, and the pectoral fins become enlarged.

Distribution and ecology
Eels are distributed throughout Japan. Outside of Japan, they are also distributed widely in East Asia from the Korean Peninsula to Vietnam. The adult fish live in rivers from mid-stream to down stream as well as in estuaries and lakes, but they also live in inner bays.

In addition to gills, they can also breathe through their skin, and therefore, as long as their body and their surroundings are wet they can also live on land. On rainy days, they can escape from their habitat to travel to a different, distant aquatic site. Therefore, they can surprise people by appearing on streets. As long as they are wet they can crawl up a vertical surface by wriggling their bodies. Therefore, this became the origin of a metaphor, 'unagi nobori' (an eel's climb) (to soar, skyrocket or rise).

They like areas such as under the sand and crevices in rocks where they can hide their slender bodies, and they remain still in hiding during the day. They are nocturnal. Therefore, at night, they start to move about actively in search of food, and they prey on shellfish, aquatic insects, frogs, small fish and other small animals.

They are not very good swimmers, and they swim slowly. Unlike other fish, in order to propel themselves forward they create waves by wiggling their bodies sideways like a snake. This swimming method is called the eel-type, and it can be seen in fish with similar body shapes, such as moray eels, hamo (common Japanese conger) and anago (conger eels).

They are very good at in vivo regulation so that they can live both in freshwater and in seawater.

Life cycle

Eels are known as freshwater fish, but their life cycle takes on that of a 'migratory fish,' which means they lay eggs and the eggs hatch in the sea, and the young eels return to the freshwater.

Until now, the spawning ground of eels was said to be the area near the Philippine Trench. However, this is a deep oceanic region, and therefore the spawning ground had long been a mystery. However, in February, 2006, Professor Katsumi TSUKAMOTO and others at the Ocean Research Institute, at Tokyo University, almost fully ascertained the spawning ground of Japanese eels to be the area around the Suruga Bank within the Mariana Oceanic Ridge, which is located in the offshore area to the west of Guam and the Mariana Islands. They succeeded in collecting many samples of larval fish that were two days old after hatching, and they checked their genes and confirmed them to be Japanese eels. The traditional theory that they lay eggs in the winter is now considered to be incorrect. Currently, the dominant theory is that they lay eggs all together on the day of the new moon between June and July.

In June and August of 2008, a group of researchers from the Ministry of Fisheries and the Fisheries Research Agency succeeded for the first time in the world in capturing mature Japanese eels and giant mottled eels in the waters off of the Mariana Islands at the depth range of 200 to 350 m. Mature spermaries were identified in males, and contracted, presumably post-spawning ovaries were identified in females. In addition, 26 two- to three-day old larval fish (leptocephalus) were also captured at depths ranging from 100 to 150 m. Furthermore, for the first time, the water temperature of the zone in which leptocephali live was confirmed to be 26.5 to 28℃. From these results, it is inferred that they possibly spawn while swimming in the slightly deeper, mid-zone instead of the relatively shallow area near the peak of the Suruga Bank.

The larval fish that hatch from eggs in two to three days are called leptocephali. Unlike the adult fish, they are shaped like willow leaves. Because the larvae are not capable of swimming on their own, this body shape is considered to be an adaptation so that they can travel by drifting with the ocean current. Leptocephali undergo metamorphosis during the stage of development into young fish.
They change their body shape from flat to cylindrical, and they become 'glass eels.'
Glass eels are close to the mature fish in body shape, but their bodies are mostly transparent, and they are only about 5 cm in length.

Glass eels ride the Kuroshio ocean current (Black Stream) and reach their habitat on the shores of Southeast Asia, then they swim upstream along rivers. In areas where the water flow is too rapid they get up on land, and they crawl upstream along the edge of the water. They grow by preying on small animals around the river, and they mature in about five to a little over ten years. The eels then swim downstream and head to the spawning ground, but their path is not yet well understood. Those that live in the vicinity of the mouth of a river that opens to the sea are able to constantly adapt to freshwater, brackish water and the seawater, and therefore they spend their lives freely going back and forth between different water environments. However, in large lakes such as Lake Biwa and Lake Inawashiro, they often live only in their habitat of freshwater areas in the lakes and the rivers around the lakes until they migrate down to the sea for spawning. In recent years, at a number of lakes such as Lake Biwa, dams have been built in the rivers that connect the lakes to the outer sea, and large-scale river improvement projects have taken place. These prevent the eels from traveling from the lake to the open sea. Because of this, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of eels within the lakes. Therefore, lakes have been stocked with larval fish.

Classification

Family Anguillidae consist solely of genus Anguilla. There are eighteen species (three are subspecies) that live throughout the world from tropical to temperate zones.

Eel (Anguilla japonica)

Giant mottled eel (Anguilla marmorata)

They are distributed along the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu located along the warm ocean current, and they are more numerous than Anguilla japonica in the Nansei Islands. Outside of Japan, they are widely distributed in the tropical zones of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

European eel (Anguilla anguilla)

They are distributed in the Atlantic Ocean and in Europe.

American eel (Anguilla rostrata)

They are distributed in the Americas.

The following organisms have long slender bodies like eels just as their names indicate, but they are classified into different groups.

Fusen unagi (swallowers)

They are classified into the order Saccopharyngiformes, and they are relatively close to order Anguilliformes.

Denki unagi (electric eels)

They are classified into the order Gymnotiformes and they are closer relatives of catfish and Characiformes than Anguilliformes.

Taunagi (Asian swamp eel)

They are classified into the order Synbranchiformes.

Yatsume unagi (lamprey eels), nutaunagi (hagfish)

They are classified as agnathonae (cyclostome), which are more primitive than fish.

Names

The first mention of an eel in Japan was its appearance as 'munagi' in the "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) (the oldest anthology of tanka) from the Nara period.
Until the latter half of the Heian period eels were called 'munagi.'
The declension as 'unagi' appeared during the insei period (period of government by the Retired Emperor), and since then the name settled to 'unagi.'
There are various theories on the origin of the word munagi, ranging from those that say that eels are round and slender just like a 'munagi' (ridgepole), their chests are yellow as in 'munagi' (yellow chest), and the chest is slit open upon cooking as in 'munabiraki' (opening the chest), among others. In any case, none of them go beyond folk etymology. For the first two theories, according to the ancient special kana usage, 'gi' in 'munagi' is a kana usage of ko-type of ki, while 'ki' (tree, wood) and 'ki' (yellow) has a kana usage of otsu-type of ki, and therefore there is a problem with consistency. Even with the latter theory of abbreviation, munabiraki shortening to munagi is also an unlikely process under normal circumstances.
In addition, there are other theories that focus on the part of 'nagi,' as follows:
That 'nagi' leads to 'naga' (long), meaning 'mu (body) nagi (long).'
That 'nagi' is a general term for snakes, and therefore, it is a word that has the same origin as the Okinawan dialect of nagi and noga, which, respectively, mean snakes and rainbow.
(Refer to Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi [the sword Ame no Murakumo, literally "Heavenly Sword of Assembled Clouds"] 'Hebi no Tsurugi' [sword of a snake].)
That 'nag-' implies 'long and slender aquatic creature (long fish).'
There is also a theory that considers that the origin of this word is included in anago and ikanago (sand eels) (forming an enormous school of fish [often long and slender] under water).

In any case, the current state is that there is not yet an established theory.

In the Kinki region eels are called 'mamushi.'
This is unrelated to the nihon mamushi (Japanese copperhead). Manmeshi (rice topped with eel) became "mamushi," and its use was diverted to refer to eel, the ingredient. In addition, there is a theory that says that the name comes from 'mamamushi,' which is a special cooking method in the Kansai region (to be precise, in the areas to the west of Lake Hamana and Lake Suwa), in which the eel is broiled without first steaming it, placed on top of the rice, and then buried under additional rice in order to steam it. Similarly, based on the cooking method, there is a theory that says the name came from 'mamushi,' which means that the eel is steamed between layers of rice, and there is another theory that says that the name came from 'mabushi,' which means that the rice is topped with eel and sauce and mixed.

Furthermore, there is a comic anecdote of Edo regarding the name unagi, in which a cormorant (u) during cormorant fishing has trouble (nangi) swallowing, therefore the term 'unagi' came about.

Fishing methods

In Japan, eels are one of the important food fish, and 110,000 tons of eels are consumed annually. By the latter half of the 20th century aqua farming technology was established. Although eels are imported, wild eels (eels caught in the wild) remain strong in popularity, and they are caught by angling and by longlines.

Furthermore, there are traditional fish-catching methods focusing on eels in various localities.

Unagi kaki (eel hooking)

Eels are caught by skillfully maneuvering a pole with a hook attached to it at the tip.

Unagi zuka (stone-piling method of eel fishing)

Rocks are piled up in an eel habitat, and they are caught when they hide in the small spaces between the rocks.

Unagi zutsu (eel trap)

Bamboo cylinders are placed in eels' habitat, and when eels rest in the cylinder the cylinder is pulled up, thereby catching them.

For recreational fishing, a fishing method using bait such as earthworms is common. However, they can also be caught by lure fishing (in both cases they are mainly done at night). For bait fishing methods, there are bukkomi zuri (a variation of carp fishing in which fish bait is tossed into the water to set up a trap, basically a single hook fishing), oki zuri (placing a bamboo pole equipped with a hook and a line in areas where eels are likely to pass through, and leaving the setup there for a while) and ana zuri (eels are caught in an area where they tend to gather during the day, by directly using a line and a hook plus a bamboo pole with a straight needle for attaching small fish), among others. In particular, oki zuri and ana zuri are fishing methods that are not seen in catching fish other than eels. However, they are not easily caught.

Fishing ports where eels are landed

Fiscal year 2002

Usa Fishing Port (Kochi Prefecture)

Susa Fishing Port (Yamaguchi Prefecture)

Kawagoe Fishing Port (Mie Prefecture)

Hiroura Fishing Port (Ibaragi Prefecture)

Nagai Fishing Port (Kanagawa Prefecture)

Aqua farming

There was an attempt made at eel aqua farming (farm raising of eels) in 1879 in Fukagawa, Tokyo (Koto Ward), but it temporarily declined because of the Pacific War. Later, the center of eel farming moved to areas around Lake Hamana. Currently, the largest amount of farm raised eels harvested within Japan according to prefectures is Kagoshima Prefecture, followed by Aichi Prefecture, Miyazaki Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture, and then Kochi Prefecture. Approximately 20,000 tons of live eels were farm raised in Japan in fiscal 2005.

As for imported eels, Taiwan has a history of over 20 years. Currently, farm raising imported young glass eels of European eels in the People's Republic of China is main stream. It is said that in the fiscal 2005, approximately 20,000 tons of live eels were farm raised in Taiwan, and approximately 50,000 tons were farm raised in China. As for the species, only Japanese eels (Anguilla japonica) is farm raised in Japan and in Taiwan. In China, the ratio is eight Japanese eels (Anguilla japonica) to two European eels (Anguilla anguilla). According to Moji Customs Hakata Customs Branch Office the imported amount throughout the year peaks in July, where the midsummer day of the ox takes place. In 2005, compared to the imported amount in June, the amount in July almost doubled to 139 tons. In 2006, the amount of eels from Taiwan increased because of stricter inspection as well as China holding back on exports.

Farm raising of eels starts with catching glass eels in the wild. Glass eels, which are young eels that ride the Kuroshio and reach the shores of Japan, are caught in large amounts, and are farm raised. As for the farm raising method, the main method in Taiwan and in Guangdong Province in southern China is outdoor aqua culturing, which is simply a pond that is dug, and in Japan and in Fujian Province in China, the main method is the one that uses a hot house. In hot house farm raising, a boiler is used to maintain a water temperature of 30℃ in order to speed up their growth.

Artificial incubation of eels was achieved for the first time in 1973 at Hokkaido University. In 2003, National Research Institute of Aquaculture, Fisheries Research Agency in Mie Prefecture announced that they succeeded in the complete farm raising of eels for the first time in the world. However, artificial incubation and aqua farming technologies immediately after hatching are still extremely costly and the success rate is low, and they are still being researched. Therefore, the method of catching glass eels, that become the seeds for aqua farming, along the coast and farm raising them until they become mature fish is the only method that has been realized commercially. This, however, is directly related to a decrease in the amount of young eels as well as a decrease in the number of eels in the wild, and the aqua farming industry itself is starting to feel the impact.

Farm raised eels and wild eels can be distinguished by the color as well as the circumference of the abdomen. In general, wild eels are fatter around the body, and the color of the abdomen is also yellowish.

A word play which uses the pun of 'yoshoku' (farm raising) and 'yoshoku' (western-style food) (a type of comic anecdote in which a dispute starts with 'is this eel yoshoku?') appeared during the period in which farm raised eels became more common on the tables in Japan, reflecting the era.

Problem of export regulations

In 2007, being afraid that European eels would become extinct, the European Union announced its policy of regulating the export of glass eels. The EU resolution was passed at the Washington Convention Conference of the Parties, and regulations were established. In this way, the regulation of exports via China began. In addition, local aqua farming industries in Taiwan are also requesting export regulations on excessively large amounts of export to Japan. In Japan also, there is a confrontation between dealers that depend of domestic glass eels and those that rely on the imported ones. Therefore, the situation is one in which no consensus is manifested. Therefore, in general, it is assumed that increasing eel prices are unavoidable.

Safety issues with imported eels

In 2003, a synthetic antibacterial agent, sulfamethazine, was detected in eels from Taiwan. Tighter inspection on residual pesticides began. In 2005, Radishbo-ya CO., LTD. sold Taiwanese eels as Japanese eels. Furthermore, synthetic antibacterial agent, enrofloxacin, was detected in their kabayaki.

On June 29, 2007, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States of America changed importing procedures because carcinogenic substances were detected in one quarter of eels, shrimp and catfish from China. Until now, it was possible to import without inspections, but it became necessary to attach a statement of proof of inspection by a third party organization. The Chinese government is in the middle of negotiating so that proof of inspection by China will be sufficient to pass customs.

Among the substances detected, nitrofuran and malachite green are confirmed carcinogens from animal studies. They are substances that are banned from use in seafood, even in China. Malachite green has previously been detected in Japan from Chinese eels. Out of 100,000 tons of eels consumed within Japan, 60,000 tons were from China. With this as a trigger, eel sales in Japan rapidly decreased.

Regarding this, Takashi MORIYAMA, Chairman of Japan Eel Importers Association commented that even though the above-mentioned substances were detected in the eels imported to the United States, 'Chinese eels that are imported to Japan have passed inspections by the Chinese government, voluntary inspections at each factory, and mandatory inspections in Japan, and therefore they are safe' and that 'fear in consumers is stoked by eels continuously being reported as dangerous, and the sale of eels is rapidly decreasing. I would like to see an understanding of the reality of how much effort we make to make them safe items.' (refer to the safety of foods from China).

As it stands on the Chinese side, General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of the People's Republic of China put a stop on exports on July 11, 2007, because there was a problem with safety control in 41 food companies in China. 11 companies out of these had exported aquatic foods to Japan. Five of these companies sold broiled eels. These factories had cases of violations at customs in Japan, and imports of their products into Japan had already been stopped. Furthermore, it became clear that 15 companies had been exempt from going though the quarantine procedure in China. As for the credibility of inspection in Japan, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare Nagoya Quarantine Station announced on the same day (July 10, 2007) that because of a misunderstanding of the criterion value, 25 tons of ginger from China with residual insecticide benzene hexachloride had been distributed. In addition, KASEI SHOKUHIN INC., to which Chairman Takashi MORIYAMA belongs, was ordered to destroy their eels in July, 2007, due to violation of Food Sanitation Act regarding excessive bacteria. Because of these issues, compared to the previous year, convenience stores and supermarkets promoted unaju (rice topped with broiled eel) and other products that used domestic eels on the midsummer day of the ox in 2007, even though their prices were higher.

On the day after the midsummer day of the ox in 2007, CO-OP Sapporo announced on July 31, 2007, that a carcinogenic antibacterial substance was detected from Chinese eels, which was provided by a subsidiary company of Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd., and they began a product recall.
These eels were advertised on their website that 'chemicals such as antibiotics were hardly ever used,' and at the store, they were advertised as 'eels sold at CO-OP Sapporo are safe because these products are different from the eels picked up by the media.'

On the other hand, even among eels sold as domestically produced eels, there were some that should, in fact, have be labeled as products of a foreign country (fraudulent claiming of origin). There was a case of eels imported from Taiwan branded as 'Eel produced in Isshiki, Aichi Mikawa' and distributed. With this, on June 18, 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries released a written statement requesting the industry groups use appropriate labeling, because these activities violated the laws related to the Act of Standardization and Proper Labeling of Agricultural and Forestry Products.

Foodstuff

Eels are high in protein and they are also easy to digest. They are also important as cooking ingredients in Japanese cuisine, and there are many restaurants called unagiya (eel restaurant) that specialize in eel cuisine. Because the odor of the feed and the water in which they lived remains in their skin, they are put in clean water for one to two days regardless of whether they are wild or farm raised. Then, those in which the odor is removed are cooked (also known as removing mud or removing odor).

The custom of eating eel in Japan in order to prevent exhaustion from summer heat is very old, and it can be traced back to Manyoshu. The following poems are by OTOMO no Yakamochi ('munagi' is the old form of unagi. Kokkataikan (Comprehensive National Poems) number is in parentheses).

Two poems that make a mockery of skinny people
I told my friend Iwamaro to eat eels that are said to be good for loss of weight in summer (3854). You should appreciate just to be able to be alive no matter how skinny you are; don't be swept away by the river when you try to catch an eel (3854).

When Edo was being developed during the era of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, many peat bogs formed due to land reclamation. Eels began to inhabit such areas, and they became food for the laborers. Back then, however, just as the Chinese characters for kabayaki suggest, the way eels were eaten was that they were simply chopped into large chunks like the heads of cattails, skewered and broiled, and therefore, they were treated as coarse fish. Eels became food for the general public as presently prepared since the latter half of the Edo period. In particular, because kabayaki is a cuisine that was born in Edo, it is considered as the signature cuisine of Edo. Although there is no thorough art like in soba (buckwheat noodles), it is a food on which an Edo native has a distinct opinion about, such as 'it is unsophisticated to rush in an eel restaurant' (it takes time because the eels are slit open individually and grilled to order) and 'drinking sake (rice wine) with shinko (pickled radishes) until the kabayaki is brought out' (it is wrong to order things like shiroyaki - eel broiled without the sauce in order to bide time, therefore, it was considered that eel restaurants paid special attention to shinko pickles).

Incidentally, eel blood contains a poison called ichthyotoxin, and therefore it cannot be eaten raw. However, it is denatured when heated, and the toxicity disappears, and therefore there is no danger from cooked eels. It can also be eaten raw as a sashimi if the blood is completely drained and if the flesh is marinated in vinegar.

Incidentally, eels are eaten on the midsummer day of the ox or in order to prevent exhaustion from the summer heat. However, eels are in season from late fall to early winter because they accumulate nutrients in their bodies in order to prepare themselves for hibernation. Therefore, they are not as tasty in the summer compared to those in fall and spring.

Furthermore, as an ancient superstition unique to Japan, eating eels and pickled plums is considered a bad combination.

The following cuisines use eel as the main cooking ingredient.

Shiroyaki

This is eel broiled over charcoal without sauce. It is eaten with wasabi, grated daikon radish or ginger and soy sauce.

Umaki

Unagi maki (eel rolled in an omelet)
This is an omelet with eel shiroyaki or kabayaki rolled at the core. Broth is added to beaten eggs, and the eel is rolled just like making a dashimaki tamago (omelet made with broth). It is cut and arranged on a platter so that the cut side is shown, and it is garnished with fresh leaves of Japanese pepper when served.
Also known as 'umaki tamago.'
It is rare, but 'unagi no gobo maki' (eel rolled with burdock root) (yawata maki in Kyoto cuisine) may also be called umaki.

Kabayaki

This is the most common cooking method in Japan. Eel flesh, that has been opened up and with the head and the bones removed, is skewered, basted with sauce and broiled. In the Kanto region, eel is broiled after it is cut open along the back and steamed first.
(Steaming an eel that has been slit open along the belly causes the flesh to fall off the skewers, therefore the eel is slit open along its back.)
In the Kansai region the eel is slit open along the belly and broiled without steaming. In Kyushu, the main method is to slit it open along the back and broil it well without steaming. At first, eel that has been cut into rods were skewered, and sansho (Japanese pepper) miso (soy bean paste) was spread on the broiled eel and sold at stalls. The shape of this food looked like 'the heads of cattails,' and therefore it was named kabayaki. Because the food is greasy, laborers loved them, but it was considered as a food for low-class people. It spread to the general public after getting rid of the oil by slitting open the eel and broiling and steaming.

Although a theory has been passed down that the tradition of eating eel kabayaki in Japan on the midsummer day of the ox began during the Edo period was spread by Gennai HIRAGA, this is not confirmed.
(It is said that an eel vendor consulted Gennai about not being able to sell eels during summer, then the vendor was given a piece of paper that said 'midsummer day of the ox,' told to put it up as a sign, and the eels started to sell.)
In the recent years, the midwinter day of the ox is also starting to spread.

Unagimeshi

This is rice topped with eel kabayaki. Depending on what bowl is used to serve it in, it is classified into unadon or unaju. In general, the sauce is poured and sansho powder is sprinkled over the food before eating.

Hitsumabushi

This is a type of unagimeshi that is a specialty of Nagoya. There are several theories on its origin. Its trademark is registered by Atsuta Horaiken in Atsuta Ward, Nagoya City. In general, this restaurant is recognized by consumers as one of the original restaurants. Eel kabayaki is sliced into thin strips of five to eight mm and topped over rice in an ohitsu (rice bowl) and served.
(At Atsuta Horaiken, the bowl used is shaped like a tree stump.)
It is eaten as follows:
(1) For the first bowl, the rice in the bowl and the eel are mixed, and dished out into a smaller rice bowl and then eaten. (2) For the second bowl, it is eaten garnished with scallions and seaweed. (3) The third bowl is eaten as unachazuke with broth and wasabi.
(In this method, Kansai-style eel that has not been steamed is used.)
There are restaurants that suggest to quarter the dish first and eat the last portion using one's favorite method.

Seiromushi

This is a famous unagimeshi in northern Kyushu centering around the Yanagawa region in Fukuoka Prefecture. It can be seen at convenience stores and in food court areas in the basement floors of department stores. It is thought to have begun by the lord of the castle in Yanagawa as a way to reheat cold unaju. By steaming rice mixed with eel kabayaki and sauce together in a steamer, the flavors of the eel and the sauce spread and a unique roasty aroma and flavor develop. Normally, it is topped with shredded omelet, and depending upon the restaurant, kabayaki is sandwiched between rice.

Uzaku

This is a sunomono (vinegared food) made with chopped broiled eel, cucumbers and Japanese ginger.

Kimosui

Soup made with internal organs, such as the stomach.

Kimoyaki

Stomachs from several eels are skewered, basted with sauce and broiled. Traditionally, liver that should be called 'kimo,' is often served as 'reba' (liver).

Unagi no nigiri

This is a nigiri sushi (sushi shaped by hand) made with eel.

Unari zushi

This is a new specialty of Toyokawa City, Aichi Prefecture. Inari zushi (fried tofu stuffed with vinegared rice) is turned upside down and topped with sliced eel kabayaki. Vinegared rice and eel match very well.
The origin of the name is a combined word made of 'unagi' and 'inari.'

Fried eels

Eel is fried like common white fish, and it is eaten with peppercorn sauce. It is not seen very often in Japan, but it is served in Europe.

Eel bones

A snack made of deep fried eel bones.

Hansuke

This refers to the head of the eel, and it is served as a snack or braised with tofu.

Kabuto yaki

Heads of several eels are skewered, basted with sauce and broiled.

Eel pie

This is a pie made with 'eel powder.'
It is a snack from Shunkado Co., Ltd. in Hamamatsu City, and it is promoted with the catch phrase; 'night time snack.'

In England, eel pie, made with chopped eel in a pie crust, is popular as a savory dish. There is a dish called pie and mash, in which the eel pie is served with mashed potatoes and a green sauce called liquor over it, and along with fish and chips, it was popular as a common man's food among Londoners. However, eels became scarce in the River Thames, and meat pie made with cheaper beef is eaten instead. There is also a dish called jellied eel in which chopped eel is suspended in aspic.

Unagi no iimushi

This is seasoned eel and glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo. It is usually eaten after steaming.

Eels are used in Cantonese cuisine, Fujian cuisine, and Shanghai cuisine in China, and they are also eaten in South Korea. Other eels such as European eels and American eels are also eaten mainly as aspic dishes in various regions, mostly in southern Europe such as Italy, Spain and France. In Spain, instead of pricey baby eels, imitation baby eels made of surimi (fish paste) are also sold.

On the other hand, in Judaism and Islam, there is a rule that says 'do not eat fish without scales,' and therefore, until recently, it was considered a taboo to eat eels whose scales are not conspicuous.

Legends that involve eels

Residents of Hino City do not eat eels. It is said that this is because long ago, eels protected the village from the flooding caused from the Tama-gawa River. The story goes, the Tama-gawa River was flooded and a levee gave way, and when the village was in danger a great number of eels appeared out of nowhere and blocked the hole in the levee. Therefore, the residents enshrined eels as gods. It is said that they are enshrined locally at Hinomiya-jinja Shrine. Therefore, there are cases among the local residents in which three generations in a family have not eaten eels.

Idioms

Unagi no nedoko (bed of eels)

Unagi nobori (eel crawling up)