Whenever I think of Seki, I think of three things – my good friends who live there, Japanese knives and eating unagi – eel.
Seki is host to two very famous unagi restaurants that attract customers from all over Japan but my absolute favourite is Tsujiya.
About 100m down the road you’re greeted by a sweet smelling smoke emanating from skewers of Tsujiya’s eel roasting over binchotan – Japanese white charcoal.
At the doorway of this 200+ year old establishment is a small pond with the biggest eel I’ve ever seen lurking around a rock. No danger of him ending up on the grill because he has been here longer than most of the regulars.
The interior is old style Japanese with many of the fittings well past their use by date, but it all adds to the atmosphere. There are bench tables for us westerners who aren’t nimble enough to sit on the floor and tatami seating for those who want the full experience.
Lunch is simple, either donburi or teishoku (set menu). The teishoku consists of a first course of eel sashimi followed by grilled eel, rice, pickles and suimono (clear soup).
My favourite however is the donburi.
The donburi is a simple and generous bowl of perfectly cooked local rice with a layer of grilled eel covered with a sticky sweet tare (a sauce made from shoyu, mirin, sugar and stock). Dig down past the first layer of eel and you will find another layer of eel mixed with the rice.
On the side of the donburi is crystal clear bowl of suimono rich with kombu flavour. It is garnished with local herbs that have a slightly slimy texture and grilled eel liver that is both smoky and bitter.
Daikon pickles offer a good diversion to the rich flavour of the tare and should be nibbled in between mouthfuls of eel.
If you ever get the chance to visit Seki, drop into Tsujiya for lunch. Take our advice and get there early or be prepared to jump in line.
Click here to view a 24 sec video at Tsujiya.
Unagi No Medai Tsujiya
5-14 Honmachi, Seki, Gifu Prefecture 501-3886, Japan