{Japan: Eat} Delicious Conger Eel Donburi (Anago Meshi) at Ueno, Miyajima

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In a Nutshell:

  • Where: Ueno, 1-5-11 Miyajima-guchi Hatsukaichi City (1 minute walk from JR Miyajima-guchi station)
  • When: May 27, 2012
  • *Notes: 1470 JPY for one anagomeshi bento to go

Full Report:

This blog post is about the place where I ate  eel and actually liked it.  I need to emphasize the “actually liked it” part because growing up, I would get really, really sad when my mother told me we were having unagi-don for dinner.  I hated unagi-don with a passion, I thought it tasted like burned up, bitter, oily fish.  Now, for those of you who don’t know, unagi-don is barbequed eel on top of a bowl of rice.  To a lot of people that might sound pretty tasty.  But to me, it meant a night of torture.  My mother wasn’t one of those understanding parents who held the food philosophy of, “Just try it once and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.”  She was the type who said, “You are not leaving the table until you finish everything on your plate.”  So unagi-don night meant that I would sit for hours taking tiny nibbles of cold eel and rice, all the while missing favorite tv shows like Family Ties and Growing Pains. 

I guess it comes as no surprise then that when I was doing research for our 2012 trip to Japan and saw that anago meshi (conger eel on rice) was the thing to eat in Miyajima, I groaned out loud.  When traveling in Japan, I really try to make an effort to eat the regional cuisines, and just the thought of eating eel was bringing back bad memories.  But as I continued to read up on anago, I started to get reassured by some of the comments on numerous websites and blogs.  Supposedly, anago (a saltwater creature) differed from unagi (freshwater eel) in being less oily and rich.  And since one of my big problems with unagi was its oiliness (which I felt contributed greatly to its “bad” taste), anago was sounding better and better.  Not to mention that unlike unagi that is usually barbequed and smothered in a sweet teriyaki-like sauce, anago meshi is grilled/broiled and lightly flavored with soy sauce.  Armed with this knowledge, I made up my mind to eat at the famous Ueno restaurant when visiting Miyajima.

Located very close to JR Miyajima Station, Ueno is known as the place to go for anago meshi.  Doing business since 1901 (wow!), the restaurant has a convenient take-out window for anago meshi bento orders.  Since M and I were really tired from trekking all over Miyajima Island, we decided to just get a bento and eat it on the train back to Hiroshima rather than dining in the restaurant.  Since we weren’t that hungry (thanks to stuffing ourselves with Momiji manju and grilled corn on the island), I decided to only order one.  M loves unagi-don  so I knew he would most likely wolf it down if I didn’t eat my share.

There was a line of people at the take-out window when we arrived but it moved pretty quickly and I placed an order for 1 Anago Meshi bento (1470 JPY).  We sat down to wait and for what seemed like a long time nothing happened.  What I mean by that is, even though there were a number of people ahead of us, nobody’s name was getting called out.  Finally, after 20 minutes, the lady at the window started summoning people to pick up their bentos.  Another 20 minutes or so passed before our order was ready.

I just loved the wooden box that the bento came in, supposedly this is the same packaging they’ve been using since they started doing business over a 100 years ago.  I had initially thought I would eat it on the train, but since the food took so long I had worked up a bit of an appetite.  I quickly tore off the wrapping to get to the food inside.

My first thought was how pretty the food looked.  The grilled anago was cut into the perfect bite-sized pieces and neatly arranged on the rice with some pickled vegetables in one corner.  I was relieved that there wasn’t a strong, oily aroma coming off of the anago, nor was it drenched in sticky-sweet sauce.  I took a bite and oh, it was so good!  Perfectly broiled to bring out the natural smokiness of the eel, and the light soy sauce really complimented the dish.  The rice was really good too.  A lot of people don’t realize how important the rice is in Japanese dishes.  This rice was fluffy and had absorbed the flavors of the delicious anago.  For something so simple, the anago meshi had a really sophisticated taste.

Then M had a bite and, while he thought it was good, he said he still preferred unagi-don.  He thought the anago meshi didn’t have as much flavor.  He very generously let me eat the majority of it which I polished off quickly.  Then we made our way to the JR Miyamjima Station to take the train back to Hiroshima.