Hitsumabushi (Nagoya-style Grilled Eel on Rice) is basically the same food as the Unadon recipe that I already posted more than a year ago. What is so unique about today’s dish is the way you eat and enjoy the grilled eel. That’s why it is given a special name, Hitsumabushi.
I recently traveled Shikoku, the smallest of the 4 main islands of Japan, and stayed in Shimanto (四万十) City in Kochi prefecture, where the crystal clear Shimanto River runs through the middle of Shimanto City. The clean water makes Shimanto River a treasure trove of river fish that includes unagi (鰻, eel), ayu (鮎, sweetfish), crabs, and prawns.
I had a delicious unajū (grilled eel on rice in a wooden box) while I was in Shimanto, so I decided to post a unagi dish. Since I have already posted the Unadon recipe, I picked Hitsumabushi.
Hitsumabushi (櫃まぶし or ひつまぶし) is a traditional dish with grilled eel, which is a specialty cuisine of Nagoya in Aichi prefecture. Unlike the Unadon or Unajū that I introduced in my post Unadon (Grilled Eel on Rice Bowl), the grilled eel is sliced into thin strips and placed on cooked rice, usually in a round wooden container (see the small photo below).
This container is called ‘ohitsu’ (お櫃 or おひつ) in Japanese, which is a tub specifically made to keep cooked rice for serving. Ohitsu is usually made with cypress without any coating. It absorbs excess moisture from the cooked rice and the lid does not drop water onto the rice.
The name of the dish comes from the way the sliced eel pieces cover the entire surface of the rice in ohitsu. The noun form of covering something in Japanese is ‘mabushi’ (まぶし). The ‘o’ (お) is dropped from ohitsu as ‘o’ (お) is a polite prefix.
Three ways of eating grilled eel on rice – Hitsumabushi
If you have already tried Unadon or Unajū, you will find that locals eat Hitsumabushi quite differently. In addition to serving strips of grilled eels on rice, the dish will be accompanied by condiments and a dashi broth (or green tea). Condiments usually include chopped green onions, shredded nori, and wasabi. As explained in the post Unadon, sanshō powder is also recommended to go on the grilled eel.
There are 5 steps to eat Hitsumabushi in the Nagoya way (see the video):
- Divide the contents of the bowl into 4 servings. Using a spoon or a small spatula provided, draw 2 crossing lines to make 4 quarters on the surface of the bowl.
- Take a quarter of the rice with eel and place it in a little bowl. Enjoy the dish just like having a Unadon.
- Put another quarter of the rice with eel into the little bowl. Mix the condiments into the rice with eel and enjoy the different flavour of the dish.
- Take the 3rd quarter into the little bowl, then pour the dashi broth (or green tea) over it. Eat it like Ochazuke.
- Put the last quarter of the rice with eel into the little bowl and eat it in the way you liked best out of the three ways above.
What’s in My Hitsumabushi (Nagoya-style Grilled Eel on Rice)
The ingredients for grilled eel are identical to the Unadon ingredients. In addition to that, Hitsumabushi requires dashi broth and a few condiments.
- 1 pack of frozen grilled eel fillet, thawed
- Cooking sake
- Cooked rice
- Soy sauce
- Cooking sake
- Chopped green onions
- Kizami nori (shredded roasted seaweed)
- Wasabi (missing from the photo below)
- Roasted white sesame seeds
- Sanshō powder
- Dashi stock
- Soy sauce
You don’t need to have all of the condiments listed above. Hitsumabushi served at restaurants usually comes with chopped green onions, kizami nori, and wasabi.
How to make Hitsumabushi (Nagoya-style Grilled Eel on Rice)
Making Hitsumabushi is not much different from making Unadon. The only difference is that you need to cut the eel into thin strips. See the video.
- Make Dashi Broth and Tare.
- Reheat the eel and cut the fillet into thin strips.
- Place the eel pieces on the rice in a serving bowl.
- Serve with Condiments and a pot/jag of Dashi Broth.
- In addition to chopsticks, you will also need a single-serve rice bowl and a small spatula/spoon to go with the dish.
Although Hitsumabushi and Unadon use the same grilled eel using the same sweet soy flavoured tare (sauce), they look different at first glance and the way you eat them is quite different.
Hitsumabushi lets you enjoy three different grilled eel dishes while Unadon allows you to appreciate the rich flavour of eel. Which dish do you like better?
Watch How To Make It
This is basically the same food as the Unadon recipe that I posted more than a year ago. What is so unique about Hitsumabushi is the way you eat and enjoy the grilled eel. I included how to eat Hitsumabushi in the last section of the instructions. See the video.
Don't forget to see the section 'MEAL IDEAS' below the recipe card! It gives you a list of dishes that I have already posted and this recipe that can make up a complete meal. I hope it is of help to you.
- 1 pack frozen grilled eel fillet (150-200g/5.3-7.1oz, note 1)
- 1 tbsp sake
- 150-200g/5.3-7.1oz cooked rice (hot)
- 200ml dashi stock (note 2)
- A pinch salt
- 1/3 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp green onion finely chopped
- 1 tbsp kizami nori
- Sanshō (or Sichuan pepper)
- Roasted white sesame seeds
Put all the Dashi Broth ingredients in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil.
Transfer the broth to a tea pot or a sauce server.
Follow the instructions of the recipe, Unadon (Grilled Eel on Rice) to make Tare.
Slice the eel fillet into about 1.5cm/⅝" wide strips.
Put rice in a serving bowl, levelling the surface.
Sprinkle about the 1/2 of the tare over the rice.
Place the eel strips covering the entire surface of the rice, then sprinkle the remaining tare over the eel.
Serve the eel on rice with Dashi Broth and condiments. You will also need a single-serve rice bowl and a small rice spatula or a spoon.
Divide the contents in the bowl into 4 equal portions by drawing a vertical and horizontal line with a small rice spatula or a spoon.
Transfer one quarter to the rice bowl and eat it just like Unadon. You may sprinkle sansho on the eel.
Transfer the second quarter to the rice bowl. Put condiments on top of it, mix and eat it. You can experience a different flavour with condiments.
Transfer the 3rd quarter to the rice bowl. Pour the Dashi Broth over it and eat it just like Ochazuke.
Transfer the last quarter to the rice bowl and eat it in the way you liked best.
1. I bought a slightly larger fillet than the one I used for Unadon. This is because the grilled eel pieces should be completely covering the surface of the rice. If you have a smaller eel, use a bowl with a small surface area.
Some frozen grilled eel packs come with a lot of thick sauce all over the eel fillet. I wipe it off before using it since my tare is home made and tastier.
2. I recommend using ichiban dashi for this. Please see the post Home Style Japanese Dashi Stock for how to make ichiban dashi. It needs a good dashi flavour to counter the strong taste of the grilled eel.
Instead of dashi broth, you can use green tea, which is the simplest version of Ochazuke.
3. You don’t need to have all of them. A typical combination of the condiments is chopped green onions, kizami nori, and wasabi.
4. Nutrition information: Please refer to Unadon recipe.