Hamamatsu, an Eel-y Nice Place to Visit!

ByBert Wishart
Sep 28, 2021

Hamamatsu, an Eel-y Nice Place to Visit!

If you live in Nagoya, there is a good chance you already know about hitsumabushi. Many of the locals consider this dish of flame-grilled unagi [freshwater eel], slit from the belly, cooked in sauce, and served on a bed of rice to be an essential part of Nagoya’s cuisine. At Horaiken in Atsuta, perhaps the most famous unagi restaurant in town, people will queue round the block for a taste. However, unagi isn’t really a Nagoya thing, and the way unagi is prepared here is actually a Kansai (Osaka) style. But you don’t have to go all the way to Osaka to get great unagi because in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, you’ll find the freshest freshwater eel.

Situated around Lake Hamana, Hamamatsu is THE place in the region to find great unagi. Why’s that, you ask? Because it is so famous for its eel that for more than 100 years, the lake has been Japan’s number one producer of unagi, making it a great place to visit to sample the real deal.

What is Hamamatsu unagi?

As well as Kansai-style unagi, the Kanto area (Tokyo and its surrounds) also has its version, but rather than being flame-grilled, it is instead split from the back, barbecued, steamed, then brushed with sauce mixture, and then flamed broiled again. The steaming step removes excess fat, adds softness and delicateness to the eel. It is said that the different styles come from the samurai period when Edo (now Tokyo) was the capital. There, slicing the fillet in the belly reminded the samurai of ritual suicide, so chefs preferred to open it from the back. However, in Kansai, people were said to “talk with their bellies split open,” a phrase in Japanese meaning that they spoke frankly.

As Hamamatsu is situated between the two cities, you can find both types in the city, meaning that you can sample both should you so wish. You can find a decent list of Hamamatsu’s best unagi restaurants here.

Catch your own unagi

Of course, all of the restaurants in Hamamatsu have the best and freshest unagi, but if you want fresher than fresh, you should go directly to the source and catch it for yourself. In Kosai city, to the west of Lake Hamana, you can find Imagire Craft Workshop, which between April 29 and October 24, you can enjoy their ‘Catching Eel by Hand Experience.’ And when it says by hand…

Directed by your English-speaking guides, you grab the eel with your bare hands before cutting, broiling, skewering, and grilling your catch by yourself. Of course, you will not be as expert as the chefs at a Hamamatsu restaurant, but the satisfaction of eating your prey should more than make up for it.

Where: Araiumizuri Park, Araicho Arai, Kosai, Shizuoka (map) There is a free transfer service from JR Araimachi Station.
Website: inhamamatsu.com

Unagi Pie and the Shunkado Unagi Pie Factory tour

If you’ve still not got your fill of unagi, why not try a bit of unagi pie. This pie isn’t perhaps what you think, as this is not a savory pie but a confectionary. This eel-flavored sweet, in which eel extract, garlic, and other such tastes are blended with fresh butter to make a sweet cake of sorts, has become famous all around Japan and is the primary choice of omiyage [souvenir] that people bring back for friends or co-workers.

And if this has piqued your fancy, why not take a tour of the Shunkado Unagi Pie Factory? With 130 years of history, Shunkado began as a small, Japanese-style confectionery shop in 1887 but has grown to become the first and last word in unagi pie. On the tour, you can see the Unagi Pie artisans at work as they make each sweet by hand, in a process that has barely changed since they first made the pie in 1961. In the Unagi Pie theater, you can watch ‘Una-kun,’ Unagi Pie’s mascot, as he introduces the secrets behind Hamamatsu’s most famed sweet, and in the cafe, you can sample all manner of confectionaries from Shunkado’s repertoire. There are three ways of touring the factory: a self-guided tour, a guided tour with a concierge, or a ‘Smile Tour,’ where a guide styled as a detective will take you around to uncover all the mysteries of the Unagipie Pastry process.

Where: 748-51 Okubocho, Nishi Ward, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka (map); To get there from Hamamatsu Station, take the JR Tokai Line to Maisaka Station (10 minutes) and then a taxi (15 minutes). Or, a taxi from Hamamatsu Station takes approximately 30 minutes.
Website: shunkado.co.jp

What’s on in Hamamatsu?

From castles to caves and sand dunes to parks, there are plenty of other things to do on your trip to Hamamatsu. Check out this JIS article to see what else you can get up to on your trip.

Hitsumabushi in Nagoya

If you’ve got a hankering for eel, but can’t wait until you visit Hamamatsu, peruse this JIS article about getting Hitsumabushi here in Nagoya.

Image: By toyohara via flickr.com [CC BY-NC 2.0] – Modified
Image: By https://www.inhamamatsu.com/recommend/experience-kabayaki.php
Image: By hirotomo t via flickr.com [CC BY-NC 2.0] – Modified

About the author

Bert Wishart editor

Novelist, copywriter and graduate from the most prestigious university in Sunderland, Bert whiles away his precious time on this Earth by writing about popular culture, travel, food and pretty much anything else that is likely to win him the Pulitzer he desperately craves.

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