I was grumpy that I had to wait.
Even though I was next in line with mobile data to kill time.
Still, it’s not like this is a shit hot ramen restaurant.
My plan to see sakura for the first time was ruined by the rain.
So I googled ‘unagi ya’ and surprisingly there’s one ten minutes away from my Shin Osaka hotel with the exact same name.
One thing we definitely can’t get in Melbourne, is unagi.
Eventually an old man signalled me to enter, and I noticed the three salarymen who were in front of me had not gotten their meal.
There’s a little sign in front of me with a long paragraph of explanation which I deduced to ‘no photo’.
Over the counter I saw a pipe with water running into a big black plastic tank.
Next to the tank, a big chopping board, and a bigger charcoal grill.
On the wall hung a small sign:
Today’s eels are from Tokushima.
Sitting around me, all salarymen.
They were slow to take my order, and I later realised why.
After I pointed to ‘Una-ju’, the chef reached into the tank without warning and grabbed an eel, completely alive, from the tank, and pushed a 3-inch golden nail through its eyes onto the big chopping board.
Now that he’s established a support point, he ran the knife through the eel in one motion from head to tail like how I slice my zucchinis in half.
Bones out in one piece, in the bowl.
The blood and guts gets brushed off the now dark red wooden board, in the bowl.
My brain was yelling close to the pitch of boiling point.
I wanted unagi, but I did not expect this.
Service was slow because they kill, debone and cook an eel for every customer on the spot.
Next thing I know the eel’s been poke through eight skewers, transferred to the grill.
The other younger man came to me.
My tamagoyaki entree was served.
With a tiny tomato and shiso leaf.
Cut back to the older man seasoning the sticks, he flipped them over once.
I finished my entree, and saw him transferring the stick to another sink filled with tare. He dragged a full ladle of the sauce on the stick.
He chopped the unagi into pieces, plated them on top of the rice, already pressed in a box, with a cover nice enough to store jewellery.
Unlike Brad Pitt, I know exactly what was in the box.
The unagi was charred to brown perfection.
The meat melts and then I tasted the skin, crispy with the soy marinade.
I had a chopstick of rice, and I took a bite of my pickle.
I drank my soup with mitsuba herb, directly from the bowl.
More salarymen came in.
’The usual, half the rice’, one said.
I looked down at my own box, trying to ignore the three eels turning from ‘beings’ to ‘cuisine’ in the next 10 minutes.
My chopstick holder was also an unagi.
Two men fillet, cook, serve and wash in this space.
Rice were also prepared fresh on premise, the dashi is boiling away on the stove.
They were dancing with the skill and confidence of what we call ‘only in Japan.’
I made sure I finished everything on my plate in respect for mister unagi.
And with bittersweetness I realised everything I eat, whether in plain view or hidden behind a factory, goes through the same process.
To naively say ‘no, no, just show me the dish’ is hypocritical.
I drank my tea, saw him flip the eels one last time, and got up to pay.
I remember Chika and I once had an argument in Ueno because I refused to pay 7000 yen for unagi.
Today’s lunch was 3300 yen.
And I’m sure it’s much better than the ones in Ueno.
I told the man in exact words:
“ This unagi, me first time.”
He said thank you.
I asked if I could take a photo, he gave me a shrug.
It made me feel not so guilty by sneaking a shot with my phone before this.
I took a proper photo of the shop.
As I was leaving the shop I saw a giant black car with a driver waiting outside.
Must be waiting for his bosses inside.
I have to tell Chika about this right now, I thought to myself.