We find out if this is a foreign tourist trap or a truly great place to eat eel in Tokyo.

Reddit is an American Internet bulletin board, said to be the largest in the world, with users mainly hailing from English-speaking countries. So when our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa caught wind of overseas users raving about a Japanese eel vendor on Reddit, he instantly became curious, especially when he discovered it was a place he’d never even heard of before.

▼ The store is located in an area of Asakusa that’s particularly popular with foreign tourists.

Seiji has lived in the neighbourhood for the past five years and often eats out alone so he was keen to find out if this mysterious eel joint was worth the hype.

As he made his way to his destination, he passed by a number of traditional-looking restaurants along Hanayashiki Street, one of Asakusa’s historic areas.

However, this eel vendor, which goes by the name Asakusa Unana (“Una” means “eel”), wasn’t located on the main street — it was tucked away in one of the back alleys, which Seiji marked out for us with a red arrow below.

It was a hidey-hole of an area that Seiji had never thought to walk down before, so his excitement grew as he continued down the road.

There, at the very end of the street, was Asakusa Unana, looking surprisingly beautiful with its eel-adorned red lantern.

▼ It was a cosy hole-in-the wall, and customers were already lining up for a taste of eel.

Despite looking like a takeaway joint, with no visible seating and a counter facing towards the street, Asakusa Unana doesn’t specialise in takeout, as there’s an eat-in space located a little further from the store. Seiji had passed this area earlier and noticed it was overflowing with foreign tourists, proving that this joint really was popular with overseas visitors.

In terms of the ordering system, it’s all done via the ticketing machine at the front of the store — simply make your selection and payment here and then hand your ticket over to staff, who’ll prepare your meal for you.

▼ The grilling times are fixed, so there’s a chance items may be sold out at the time of your visit.

Seiji opted for the “Domestic Grilled Eel Rice Ball” (600 yen [US$4.33]), which was the one he’d seen everyone raving about on Reddit. His visit turned out to be good timing for the order, as it had just been freshly grilled at 3:30 p.m. so he was able to receive it immediately.

It certainly looked beautiful, with its glossy, saucy coating, and the eel was a generous size too, jutting out over the sides of the rice ball beneath it.

When he ate it, he was delighted to find that the eel was plump, soft and flavourful, and the rice ball was also delicious, having been slightly grilled as well, and coated in the same sweet, sticky sauce as the topping.

Seiji’s only criticism was the price, as it was an expensive price to pay for a rice ball, but considering it was freshly grilled in a historic part of town, he could see the appeal, especially with tourists.

Moreover, the way it was served, in a wrapper that made it easy to eat, like a burger, would definitely appeal to a tourist on the go. Come to think of it, Seiji had never come across a place that makes it so easy to eat this type of eel outside of a sit-down restaurant situation, so he had to hand it to them — this place really was good, and well worth a visit when you’re sightseeing in Tokyo.

As he finished his eel, Seiji recalled the times when he’d visited England and picked up a bite to eat from a roadside store. Over in England, Seiji had been a tourist, so he enjoyed eating in a way he normally wouldn’t back home. And that’s when he came to a realisation about places like Asakusa Unana.

Would he return to eat here, as a local? Probably not, but that’s mostly because he doesn’t have the desire to splurge on something he can buy at a local convenience store at a cheaper price. But if he were a tourist in a new town, when making memories is worth the extra cost, he’d definitely visit. Either way, he was glad to have tried it out, and if you’d like more unique eel discoveries, don’t forget you can always buy eel from a vending machine too!

Restaurant information
Asakusa Unana / 浅草うなな
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Asakusa 2-7-21
Open 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays

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