Yesterday, 4th August is also known as どようのうしのひ or Midsummer day of the Ox in english. On this day, Japanese like to eat grilled eel or unagi as it is supposed to give them strength to last them through the hot summer.
There are a few versions of how this old custom came about. The story has it that long long time ago, a grill-eel shop owner was depressed over his poor business. A very knowledgeable man advised the owner to stick posters outside his shop, telling people that grill eel is good for the summer. This helped to boost the business and soon, people adopted the habit of eating eel during summer.
Actually nowadays, this custom is not so much observed by the young generations of Japaneses; it is more practiced by the older folks. My boss for instance, don’t even know when this day is on the calendar. This is similiar to us chinese not remembering the birth of GuanYin, for instance.
I don’t really feel that unagi helped me endure the hot weather in singapore so i guess its more of a customary gesture rather than something scientific. However, unagi is rich in Vitamin A, protein and calcium.
Unagi happened to be my favorite fish (as food, i mean). Whenever i am in a japanese restaurant, i always first looked for Unagi-don (grill eel rice bowl). If the picture in the menu looks appetizing, i would usually order it. One factor that could change my mind is the price, Unagi-don is usually one of the most expensive meals in any japanese restaurants, given that most of the time, one will only get unagi and rice and nothing else. One set of Unagi-don can easily cost $20+ while the more common mixed bento set comes with a variety of tempura, chicken teriyaki and fruits and costs much less.
I went to the supermarket on sunday evening to get myself one packet of unagi. Not cheap but i get 2 decent sized fish for $12.50. I was pretty sure that i am going to enjoy myself. Not quite that, i discovered on last nite when i had one for dinner. Although one should expect to find small soft bones when eating unagi, the one i had yesterday was bad. Very bad. I could barely chew without getting bones sticking into the roof of my mouth of tongue. In the end, i had to try to pick out the bones before i can pop one piece in. What a way to enjoy my favorite fish.