What is Doyo no Ushi no Hi?
Ushi (丑) is the ox zodiac sign in Chinese astrology and Ushi no hi (丑の日) means, literally, day of the ox. Doyo (土用) is the name given to a period of 18-19 days preceding the change of seasons. So Doyo No Ushi No Hi is the day of the ox during this seasonal change, every 12 days within this 18-day period. Usually this day falls in mid July. This year, Doyo no Ushi no Hi falls on July 20 (Friday) and August 1 (Wednesday).
This doyo period does not only fall in summer but also in spring (Risshun) around February 4, in summer (Rikka) around May 5, in fall (Risshu) around August 7 and in winter (Ritto) around November 7.
Why is eel eaten on this day?
In the Edo period, it was believed that on Doyo No Ushi No Hi eating food beginning with う (u) would bring relief from the summer’s intense heat and humidity. A man who owned an eel restaurant had fallen on tough times because he was having trouble luring customers to consume unagi in the summer heat. Hiraga Genna, a friend of the restaurant owner, suggested that since unagi started with the ‘u’ character, the restaurant owner should advertise with this in mind. Gennai drew a sign for the restaurant stating that since Doyo No Ushi No Hi was nearing that it was the best time to eat unagi. Thus, the tradition of eating unagi started in the Edo period.
Other than this, unagi also has nutritional benefits. Since its too hot to eat during summer, it makes sense to get your nutrition from unagi which is full of protein, calcium and several vitamins.
Is anago the same as unagi?
Unagi is actually a deep-sea fish, but in the breeding season, unagi migrate to fresh water bodies, and anago migrates to shallow sea waters near the land. Unagi is known for its bold flavor while anago is mild.
Unagi (freshwater eel)
Anago (saltwater eel)
Let’s check out the main types of eel dishes found in Japan.
Unaju is one of the most popular dishes when it comes to eel. Grilled eel glazed with sticky sweetened soy sauce (tare) and sprinkled with sansho placed on steamed white rice are served in a rectangular box (jubako), usually decorated with lacquer. Let’s check out some of the most amazing eel restaurants in Japan.
Kabayaki is a cooking method in which an eel is butterflied and grilled with a sweet and salty soy-based sauce. This restaurant is the birth place of unagi kabayaki and is located in Urawa, Saitama Prefecture. They have been in the business for over a half-century and the thick eel is grilled on premium Binchotan charcoal (also called white charcoal).
For more: https://ikidane-nippon.com/en/interest/unagi-musashino
Tabelog rating: 3.89/5
Seifurou, near Odawara Castle, was founded in 1862; the current owner is the fifth generation and the recipes here have been handed down to over the ages. These include their distinctive eel dishes and other new recipes that have been developed making use of the traditional flavors. Their Unaju Matsu with soup is a must-have. The special Kyosui eel is steamed and grilled with the traditional sweet and salty sauce that has been replenished over the years, then the eel is place on top of freshly cooked hot rice. This is their popular signature dish.
For more: http://ikidane-nippon.com/en/interest/seifurou
Tabelog rating: 3.03/5
The second popular way to eat eel is from Nagoya where eel is slit open along the belly and grilled whole without steaming. Said to have originated at the end of the Meiji Period, waitresses dished up each serving of grilled eel on rice from a large wooden tub.
Atsuta Horaiken Jingu-ten
Known to be the first restaurant that served Hitsumabushi, many customers come here to taste “the original Hitsumabushi” every day. The same sauce has been used for the last 140 years! The skin of the eel is crispy and coated with this secret sweet and spicy sauce.
For more: http://ikidane-nippon.com/en/interest/atsuta-horaiken-jingu-ten
Tabelog rating: 3.7/5
The domestic eels used here are the freshest and fattiest available and the secret sauce has been passed down through the generations for over 160 years by master chefs resulting in a magnificent dish. The crispy and aromatic cooked eel mixed together with the sweet tamari soy sauce will fill your mouth with supreme bliss upon every bite!
For more: https://ikidane-nippon.com/en/interest/maruya
Tabelog rating: 3.62/5
One of the few unagi restaurants that has a 3.99 rating on Japan’s most popular food website: Tabelog. They usually serve eel from Mikawaishiki, an area which produces the largest amount of eel in Japan. Rich in fat, the eel here is also grilled on Bincho charcoal resulting in soft eel with crispy outside.
Tabelog rating: 3.99/5