Our reporter was craving some grilled eel, but ended up with something even more delicious!

Our reporter Takamichi Furusawa has been craving a particular dish recently, particularly during these summer months. For him, nothing beats chowing down on some eel on a hot summer’s day, in particular unagi no kabayakigrilled eel on rice served in a box.

Japan is known throughout the world for its excellent seafood, so finding some decent grilled eel might seem like a simple task. But Takamichi is a resident of Gunma Prefecture, one of Japan’s few landlocked prefectures; while Gunma is famous for konjac and manju, it’s not really associated with delicious seafood like eel.

So Takamichi was thrilled when he came across Kawatomi, a local restaurant with great reviews online, as well as some pictures of delicious-looking grilled eel. With his heart full of hope and a stomach ready to be full of delicious eel, he hopped on a train and headed to Gunma’s Ota City. 

Takamichi arrived at Sanmaibashi station, and from there it was a 20-minute walk to the restaurant.

While Gunma is pretty close to Tokyo, it’s significantly more rural; there were no buses or public transport to take him to his destination, so Takamichi began to stroll through the countryside in the blazing heat.

According to Google Maps, the restaurant was supposed to be somewhere in this area, but Takamichi couldn’t see anything that looked like a restaurant… unless…. behind these bushes…?

He had arrived at Kawatomi, and it certainly wasn’t what he had been expecting. There were bushes growing on the side of the building, and the bright green and yellow walls didn’t seem like anything you’d find in Japan. It was like Takamichi had traveled to a different country called ‘Gumna’.

The restaurant menu was posted on one of the brightly coloured walls. There were a whole bunch of delicious-looking meals, like yakisoba and deep-fried apple, but Takamichi had travelled to these distant lands to try one thing and one thing only — his beloved grilled eel.

But as he took a closer look at the menu, he noticed something was slightly off. Where he had been expecting to see ‘unagi no kabayaki’ (grilled eel), instead was ‘nasu no kabayaki’ (grilled eggplant).

The pictures of the grilled eel that he’d seen online, the dish that had gotten so many rave reviews — actually wasn’t grilled eel at all, and had been grilled eggplant all along!

Unagi no kabayaki may have been off the menu, but Takamichi hadn’t come all this way just to go home empty bellied. Besides, the grilled eggplant must be pretty good to have gathered so many positive reviews online, so he put in an order for some nasu no kabayaki.

The restaurant requires you to place your order from outside, regardless if you’re eating in or taking your meal to-go, so Takamichi did just that.

Order placed, Takamichi ventured into the restaurant, which in comparison to the bright colours outside seemed quite calm and elegant, with significantly less greenery growing on the walls. Takamichi took a seat and waited for his meal, enveloped in the enticing aroma of grilled eggplant; clearly someone had already ordered some before him.

After just ten minutes, his meal was ready, so he went to grab it from the counter. The meal included some miso soup and pickles, cost 1,110 yen (US$8.14) and came in a box just like unagi no kabayaki.

When Takamichi opened the lid, he had to do a double take…

▼ … because what was inside looked just like grilled eel!

Takamichi couldn’t believe it. The colour, the texture — everything looked just like unagi no kabayaki! And now that the lid was off, a sweet and sour aroma — not unlike grilled eel — started wafting towards Takamichi’s nostrils.

If he didn’t already know differently, Takamichi would have sworn blind that he’d just been served some unagi no kabayaki. How it looked, how it smelled… was this really eggplant? There was only one way to find out, so Takamichi grabbed his chopsticks and got stuck in.

But as he lifted one of the eggplant layers, he noticed something unusual underneath…

▼ Underneath the eggplant layers was some roast chicken!

While normal unagi no kabayaki comes served on a bed of rice, this eggplant version came with a layer of roast chicken, as well as thinly shredded seaweed on top of the rice.

But was the eggplant a suitable substitute for eel? According to Takamichi, absolutely yes. It was grilled to perfection, and really brought out the eggplant’s flavour. With each soft, tender bite, Takamichi was reminded of the scene in Spirited Away, where Chihiro’s dad was eating meat.

▼ Maybe Chihiro’s parents were actually eating eggplant all along.

©Studio Ghibli

The sauce that the eggplant was marinated in was delicious, and the chicken, rice and seaweed also ended up getting soaked in it too. Takamichi felt himself falling in love with the meal more and more with each bite — who knew that eggplant could be so delicious?

By the end of the meal, Takamichi’s mind was blown by the deliciousness of eggplant masquerading as eel. He concluded that he actually preferred grilled eggplant to grilled eel, and fully understood why there had been so many glowing reviews on the Internet.

Takamichi is definitely planning to come back and eat here again, but for those of us not lucky enough to live in Gunma Prefecture like Takamichi, the grilled eggplant dish can be ordered from Kawatomi’s website. Just be sure to enjoy your grilled eggplant with some fresh eel cola in order for the full ‘mind-blown’ experience!

Restaurant information
かわとみ Kawatomi
Gunma, Ota-shi, Gokudo-cho 178-2
Open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (for eat in customers, last order is 2:00 p.m.)
Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays

Photos ©SoraNews24 unless otherwise stated
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