Newly opened UYA 四代目菊川 serves up affordable and authentic Japanese traditional unagi cuisine, and is 1 out of merely 5 Japanese restaurants in Singapore which serve live grilled eel (Unagi) in various styles.
Their eels are carefully selected to ensure the ideal quality (colour, plumbness and tenderness) to match their own tare (sauce) – which is made using a sauce base that has been a family secret for over 4 generations and was specially brought over from Japan to Singapore.
Ever had the ‘Hitsumabushi’ (Unagi rice bowl) experience?
Still a relatively new experience in Singapore, the ‘Hitsumabushi’ is served in a large bowl of rice topped with chopped grilled unagi, and several other toppings and condiments. It is one of the more popular local cuisines in Nagoya, Japan.
Here are 4 ways to eat Hitsumabushi:
- At the start, divide the bowl into four quarters and scoop the first portion into your bowl, mix it up and eat it in its original form.
- The next portion is eaten together with condiments, such as, wasabi, nori (seaweed), pickles and spring onions (try sprinkling some Japanese sansho pepper too – it adds a fresh ‘lime / lemongrass-like scent with a tangy spiciness like the “mala” spice).
- With the third portion, condiments are added to the rice and warm broth poured over it, like o-chazuke soup with rice.
- With the final portion, choose any favorite way you would like to have it again!
The unagi guts are skewered and grilled. Even the unagi spine is deep fried and eaten like a crispy cracker. You can order unagi liver as a side dish at UYA 四代目菊川 poached (lighter version shown in image) or grilled with a sweet sauce (darker version).
A system to ensure ultimate freshness
Tateba are used in Japan to store eels in unagi distribution facilities – live unagi are kept in the columns of black plastic tubs called Domaru (each Domaru contains about 5kg of Unagi each). Chilled filtered water streams down from taps located above the columns, trickling down the baskets to keep the eels moist and lively.
The top tub is generally kept empty to keep the unagi from escaping and not expose them to too much light. A custom-built filtration system ensures that clean water constantly flows through each column for the unagi to remain wet, cool and healthy.
The water is chilled to 16 degrees Celsius, naturally filtered, cleaned with live bacteria and UV sterilizer without any chemical treatment. Compared to keeping them in aquarium tanks which some eel restaurants do, using tateba system generally increases the survivability of the eels, increase hygiene levels and keep the eels healthy.
Under e2i’s Professional Development (PD) and Place-and-Train (PnT) scheme, UYA 四代目菊川 was able to invite one of the top Japanese chefs from Nagoya, Japan to train their local Singaporean staff in the art of eel handling and preparation.
Kam Hee Wah, 51, Cook at UYA 四代目菊川 described his training experience:
“I have been working here for about 4 months – the killing and grilling method was very different from what I had previously learnt. The hardest part is grilling the eel because it can get too hot just standing there to go through its process. The secret to cooking it well is to cook the meat first, then the skin, until the oil drips out then we dip the sauce – then put it back to the grill again."
"This was what our expert chef trainer taught us to do over 2 whole months, other than the history of eels, killing and preparation methods. Here, I assist the head chef to prepare and cook where needed.”
UYA also partnered e2i for to equip their staff with the necessary handling / service skills and knowledge on live eel from Japan (from food pairing and life history of eel to catching methods, transporting, processing ways like freezing, boning, sauce making and smoking). This was done through e2i’s Professional Development and Place-and-Train scheme.
One of UYA’s staff who benefited from the training scheme – Teng Soo Yen, 38, Management Trainee at UYA 四代目菊川 shares her thoughts about her work experience at UYA and training stint:
“I have been in the F&B industry for over 20 years and nothing new really amazes me – until I started working in a restaurant that serves live unagi eels: it has given me a whole new level of learning and I have had so much fun in the process of gaining these skills and knowledge.”
“Even though I mainly handle the front-end operations, I have to know what happens in the back-end kitchen too so we can provide proper advice, and knowledge to the customers when asked. We were taught on the history of these eels so that when customers hear it they know that this is a proper eel restaurant.”
“I feel that eel restaurants are still very new in Singapore. Most restaurants in Singapore that serve eel kill the eel first before the deboning process and this ruins the texture and freshness of the meat before grilling. The entire process of how it’s handled is crucial, from the way the eels are kept, to the way they are transported, the killing and deboning matters to the taste of the meat.”
“Over my training period here, I learnt here that charcoal grilling the eel really makes a big difference to its taste, colour and even the skin of the eel plays a part in the grilling process. Even the temperature of the charcoal grill and timing at which we dip the sauces are integral. This was the real value to the staff at UYA 四代目菊川 in having a real expert come down from Japan to teach us, not just about learning this on Google or YouTube.”
The unagi fillets at UYA 四代目菊川 are traditionally prepared by grilling them over hot charcoal flames after they are deboned. Then they are basted with a sweet unagi sauce made from the restaurant’s secret recipe generationally passed down.
Here, the unagi is grilled Kansai-style (Kyoto, Osaka and the west) where the unagi is prepared by slicing the eel’s belly, the whole unagi fillets are skewed on metal skewers, seasoned with tare sauce and grilled. Kansai-style is known for being more flavourful and holds a perfect level of “char” goodness.
The other known method is the Kanto-style: eastern Japan including Tokyo, where the unagi is prepared by slicing open the eel’s back, combining both grill and steam during the cooking process.
In Nagoya Japan, the Kansai-style is predominantly used – as is practiced by UYA 四代目菊. This style results in a flavor that is stronger and has more depth.
Try the Hitsumabushi experience at UYA 四代目菊川 Japanese Unagi Restaurant!
Interested in partnering with e2i?
Contact our industry specialist here: https://e2i.com.sg/contact-an-industry-specialist/
Or find out more about:
Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP): https://e2i.com.sg/businesses/inclusive-growth-programme-igp/
Place-and-Train programme: https://e2i.com.sg/businesses/place-and-train-programmes/
Story by: R.Lee