In Japan I lived in the city of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture. One of the well-known delicacies of the region is unagi (eel) straight from Lake Hamana, a giant saltwater lake on the prefecture’s west side. Unagi is put into everything in almost every form imaginable: smoked on rice in bento, dried on a stick, chopped up in chirashizushi, you name it. There’s even an unagi museum. But one of the most readily identifiable of Hamamatsu’s unagi products is one that you (well, I, at least) wouldn’t immediately come up with: unagi pie.
The reality, unfortunately, is slightly less entertaining and exotic than the name would have you believe. Unagi pie is actually a kind of butter cookie that’s made with crushed unagi and garlic mixed in. The final flavor really doesn’t taste much like eel at all, but the cachet of having Lake Hamana unagi incorporated into it makes unagi pie one of the most popular souvenirs for tourists visiting the Hamamatsu area. The cookies come in three
flavors: regular unagi pie, unagi pie with almonds, and unagi pie VSOP, which has brandy added for a little extra kick. (Your guess is as good as mine what that acronym stands for. Vittles in Smaller than Occidental Portions? Very Super Ohsoawesome Pie?) For my money, unagi pie VSOP is the cream of the crop. It even comes in special gold foil wrappers, which just goes to show that that’s a sure sign of quality worldwide.
Finally, for the truly dedicated, there’s also an unagi pie museum. The tour is pretty interesting, but the real fun lies in making your way through at your own pace, stopping to marvel at the automated wonder of the packaging room, and then producing strange anthropomorphizations of the larger-than-life unagi pie sculptures. Overall, it’s definitely worth the trip, or at least definitely worth trying these if you (or anyone you know!) visits Hamamatsu.
Tim Young 2004-2006
Hosoe-cho and Hamamatsu-shi, Shizuoka