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Japanese brace for annual eel-eating spree

eels July 18, 1997
Web posted at: 10:43 p.m. EDT (0243 GMT)

NARITA, Japan (CNN) -- Shipments of eels are nearing their peak as the Japanese brace themselves for "Doyo-no-ushi," the annual eel-eating spree that takes place this year on July 22.

Japan Asia Air System said it will bring in 700,000 eels from Taiwan on special flights Friday and Saturday, bringing the total for the week to 1.9 million eels. That's an increase of 10 percent over last year.

Exodus of eels. (TV Asahi)
video icon 2.2MB/28 sec. Large QuickTime movie
1.2MB/28 sec. Small QuickTime movie

The eels, known in Japan as unagi (ooh-NAH-ghee), are popular not only for their flavor, but for what the Japanese believe are their stamina-giving properties.

According to the Tokyo Food Page , the eels are traditionally eaten during one of the hottest days of summer in the belief that they will provide strength and vitality for the rest of the year.

The eels are grilled over hot charcoals, steamed to remove excess fat and then grilled a second time after being seasoned with a sweet sauce. Good unagi is crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and has a rich flavor similar to pate.

Many eels being imported from Taiwan, China and several other countries are in the form of processed foods, such as frozen grilled eel. But shipments of live eels, placed in plastic bags with oxygen and water, are becoming popular.

Fancy restaurants keep live eels in tanks and don't begin preparing them until the diner has ordered.

"This process takes a bit of time and patience," says the Tokyo Food Page, "but you're guaranteed completely fresh eel, and many diners feel the results are well worth the wait."


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