The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Delicious unagi (eel) and hitsumabushi @ Atsuta Houraiken Matsuzakaya-ten, Nagoya (Japan)

The previous three posts on this blog saw me writing about Chinese food in Hong Kong, our trip to Italy, and eating African food in Australia. I love how easy it is to travel these days, and the diversified experiences that travelling rewards us with. Today's post is about Japanese food we had during our most recent overseas trip to Japan, and I hope no one's getting dizzy as I switch between travels and food experiences to catch up on my ever-increasing backlog of photos.

Aside from miso-nikomi udon, another of Nagoya's food specialty is hitsumabushi, an unagi (freshwater eel) dish. Hitsumabushi is a variant of the more well known unadon - eel kabayaki served on top of rice and accompanied by seasonings and dashi broth. I ate something similar at a little hole-in-the-wall place in Tsukiji a few years ago when we were still living in Tokyo, and enjoyed the experience. Atsuta Houraiken is where hitsumabushi is said to have originated from, and the main restaurant was founded in 1873 at Atsuta Jingu Shrine. Atsuta Houraiken has three branches, and two are located in Sakae, which is really conveniently close to the hotel we stayed at. At the end of a fabulous day at Nagoya castle, we walked over to the humungous Matsuzakaya Department Store, one of the oldest department stores in Japan (established in 1611) and the three buildings boasts the largest floor space in Japan. It took a bit of effort to locate this particular branch of Atsuta Houraiken because we failed to pay attention to its location in the South Building. By the time we arrived around 7:45pm, there was a really long queue of hungry diners waiting for dinner at Houraiken. I think we must have waited about 45 minutes to an hour for a table, but we were too tired to look for alternatives. The wait was well worth it, because that was the best unagi I've ever tasted (and four years living in Japan granted me plenty of eel-eating opportunities).

The entrance to Atsuta Houraiken at Matsuzakaya Department Store. To the right is a display of three of Houraiken's most popular unagi dishes:

The main dining area (photo taken around 10pm, so it was relatively empty):

The hallway into the tatami rooms, where we were seated:

There was a choice of dining at the bar, table or tatami room. Service was good and efficient (as one would expect from Japanese hospitality). The menu was brief, but that meant the kitchen could focus on serving their specialised dishes to an excellent standard. And the food was delicious.

For the 5-year-old, an order of Umaki - omelet wrapped eel. This tamagoyaki with unagi within its layers was a sheer genius combo:

Hubby chose the Unagi Shirayaki (literally "white-grilled eel", without sauce), served with rice, tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and soup:

The shirayaki option was a great way to taste the good quality eel on its own without the distraction of sauce and condiments. The eel was meltingly tender and sweet, with no muddy or brackish flavour that I often could taste in unagi:

I ordered Houraiken's most famous dish, the Hitsumabushi, complete with condiments and dashi broth in addition to the tsukemono and soup:

English instructions on how to eat hitsumabushi:

Grilled eel on rice:

Step 1 - just the eel and rice. This was my favourite of the three ways to eat:

Step 2 - eel, rice and the toppings of sliced green onion, wasabi and nori:

This was the waiting area outside the restaurant. The queue snaked from the left of the shot, all the way around to where hubby is standing with the baby pram:

Atsuta Houraiken is probably the best place to taste excellent quality eel in Japan. It is a popular choice at mealtimes, so try making reservations in advance, walk in at non-peak times, or be prepared to wait.

Atsuta Houraiken [Matsuzakaya-ten]
10th Floor, South Building
Matsuzakaya Nagoya Department Store
3-30-8 Sakae,
Naka-ku, Nagoya
Aichi 460-0008
Tel. +81 52-264-3825

1 comment:

  1. Suppose to come over to Hong Kong end of this month after Macau but will be travelling in Macau only. Hope to meet u one day.