What Is Unagi?

Every Japanese food enthusiast will work their way through the entire sushi menu during their lifetimes. At some point during that journey you'll encounter unagi, which kind of rhymes with tsunami. Both are Japanese and have to do with the ocean, but only one will land a piece of sushi on your plate with the richest, juiciest most umami-packed fish in the house.

Unagi in Japan means freshwater eel, a sweeter, more tender critter than its ocean-faring cousins. Its bones are small and tender enough to eat (and provide a pleasant little tickle on the way down). The eel is typically filleted, grilled and brushed with a sweet soy reduction, then sliced into portions and served as nigiri (individual pieces of fish on rice balls), held on with a strip of nori. What does it taste like? Not unlike a mild, firm-fleshed white fish like bass, but sweeter. Like what you taste? Order yourself some unagi don, a large portion of eel served over rice. Vegetarian? We've got a mock unagi recipe that'll give the real deal a run for its money.

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