Apart from Okinawan cuisine, no other region in Japan boasts such a unique food culture as that of Aichi. Known as Nagoya Meshi, or Samurai Cuisine, it is rich in variety, and includes rice based meals, side dishes, confectionary, snack like serves enjoyed with alcohol, and not just traditional Japanese cuisine, but international foods have been creatively enhanced to create a cross-cultural food experience with Nagoya Meshi.
One of the most popular Nagoya Meshi meals is a dish called Hitsumabushi. That’s quite a mouthful to say, break it up, Hitsu-Ma-Bushi, there! That’s the first major hurdle covered. Stay with me, there are a few more hurdles to get over.
Next hurdle, What is it? Hitsumabushi is slices of char-grilled eel covered in rich tamari sauce, served atop a steaming bed of rice in a large wooden container.
EEL?? Yes, eel, and its not as bad as it sounds. The aroma of the eel being char-grilled is one of the finer smells of Japan, and the taste of the grilled eel together with the tamari sauce is simply divine! Just smell it on the street first, that will have you wanting to go inside the restaurant and try it, trust me.
The grilled slices of eel are served on a bed of rice. Separate it into four serves, and scoop out the first portion and savior its natural taste. For the second portion, add the accompanying condiments and enjoy.
The third segment is enjoyed like ochazuke, doused in green tea or broth, and the remaining condiments, allowing you to enjoy three flavors in one. For the fourth final serve, you choose your favorite way to partake. Personally I skip steps two and three and enjoy it just as it is served.
Hitsumabushi is said to have originated in Nagoya during the Meiji Period. When it came to be served as the final, most anticipated dish at banquets, and condiments such as green tea were added to make it refreshing.
Incidentally, I mentioned this being called Samurai Cuisine, right? The eel is sliced open along the backbone in the Kansai (western Japan) style, as cutting along the stomach is seen as too similar to the traditional punishment of the samurai, the practice of Hara-Kiri!
Hitsumabushi, grilled eel, ...it's not a punishment, it's a reward!
Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.