Unagi ウナギ which is freshwater eel used to be a minor part of an extensive menu in many Japanese restaurants in Singapore. That was because Man Man came along.

The Unagi is typically served as part of unadon – a donburi dish with sliced eel served on a bed of rice.

Prized for its quality and sweet taste, the eel however, is facing shortage due to decreasing supply and increasing international demand.

It is not difficult to find unagi taking a bigger role in Japanese menus here, and more unagi specialty restaurants such as Unagiya Ichinoji, Unaemon, and Una Una being set up.

Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant – Keong Saik
1 Keong Saik Road #01-01 Singapore 089109
Tel: +65 6222 0678
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:30am – 3:00pm Last order 2:30pm,
Dinner 6:00pm – 10:30pm (Mon – Sat, PH), Closed Sun

Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant at Keong Saik Road has been attracting long lines, especially after the Michelin Bib Gourmand win.

The queue is said to be anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours, and the safest bet would be to go early evening, or late lunch (before last orders though).

The Unagi supply comes solely from the Mikawa Isshiki region, famous for supplying high quality freshwater eel.

Chef Nakagawa, who had been working in a Mikawa Unagi shop for more than 20 years, (or his team members) will cut the unagi live in front of diners. That’s part of the thrill, I guess.

There are three recommended steps to enjoy the don. First, you can enjoy Unagi itself with rice. Secondly, include the spices. Lastly, pour the dashi stock over the bowl.

To me, it is “Very oishii!” Beautifully char-grilled unagi with the light crisp, matched with top-grade rice, and tantalising sauces. No fishy taste too.

Man Man has 3 other branches, at Duo Gallery, within Yamato Izakaya, and the other a collaboration with Tendon Kohaku at Clarke Quay Central. Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant (Keong Saik Road)

Uya 四代目菊川
501 Orchard Road, #02-15/16 Wheelock Place, Singapore 238880 (Orchard MRT)
Tel: +65 6732 1096
Opening Hours: Lunch 12pm – 3pm Last Order 2:30pm;
Dinner 6pm – 9:30pm Last Order 9pm (Sun – Thurs), 6pm – 10pm Last Order 9:30pm (Fri – Sat)

Uya 四代目菊川 located at level 2 of Wheelock Place, aims to offer affordable and authentic Japanese traditional unagi cuisine to the masses in Singapore.

The eels at Uya are said to be selected to ensure the ideal quality in colour, plumbness and tenderness.

The tare used is made using a sauce base that has been a family secret for over 4 generations and was specially brought over from Japan to Singapore.

The price of the Hitsumabushi Set is at $35++ for the medium, and $48++ for large.

So while the unagi was of reasonably good quality, it lacked that slight char and smokiness one would come expecting (perhaps it was an ‘off’ day when I visited.)

The good thing is, those who find Man Man’s version too sweet, could prefer this as you can savour more of the natural flavours of the eel. Uya (Wheelock Place)

Unagiya Ichinoji – Eat At Seven Suntec City
3 Temasek Boulevard #03-307, Sky Garden Suntec City, Singapore 038983
Tel: +65 6268 8043
Operating Hours 11:30am – 3pm Last Order 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 10:00pm Last Order 9:30pm

Unagiya Ichinoji – Riverside Village Residences
Riverside Village Residences 01-05, 30 Robertson Quay, Singapore 238251
Tel: +65 6732 1970
Opening Hours: 11:30am – 3pm, 5:30pm – 10pm (Mon – Sun)

Miyagawa Honten is one of Tokyo’s famous unagi restaurants, with a history that spans 125 years, now operating 20 outlets in Japan alone.

Its outlet in Meguro-ku, Tokyo has been awarded Bib Gourmand in Michelin Guide Tokyo. However, it is called “Unagiya Ichinoji” in Singapore instead of its parent-name.

The success of Miyagawa Honten is said to be attributed to the chefs’ grilling techniques, temperature control of the charcoal grill and special inhouse tare (sweet basting sauce) whose recipe has been passed down for four generations.

The 34-seater restaurant serves up unagi in three different styles: Hitsumabushi ($19.80), Seiro Mushi ($19.80) and Mamushi Donburi ($18.80).

After the change in supply, I did realise that the eel used now is both meatier and softer. (Those of you looking out for that crisp outer layer might not get it).

Instead of just one, there are now two special homemade unagi sauces. The Japanese unagi sauce is made with a higher shoyu content, and hence has a saltier and more robust note. There is another unagi sauce which is specially tailored for locals, and has a sweeter note. Unagiya Ichinoji Dining (Suntec City)

Una Una
201 Victoria St, #04-10, Singapore 188067
Tel: +65 6238 1011
Opening hours: 11:30am – 3pm, 5pm – 10pm (Mon – Fri), 11:30am – 10pm (Sat, Sun)

Una Una allows you to enjoy this regional specialty for only $9.80++. For such a luxe dish, this is a steal. If you are a real unagi fan, you know how expensive it can be.

Over at Una Una, you will be blissfully surrounded with unagi in different forms, from Hitsumabushi to Unaju (unagi bento box), Gozen (set meals), unagi sushi rolls, and unagi kabayaki (grilled) sets.

The signature Unagi Hitsumabushi ($9.80 for small, $14.80 for regular, $19.80 for double) starts with fresh unagi slathered with a special in-house sweet and savoury basting tare made of shoyu, mirin, and sugar.

Flown in from Japan, this unagi sauce is as authentic as it can be.

The fish is then grilled over temperature-controlled charcoals, twice. This double-dipping technique for about 10 minutes creates a winning texture – glisteningly crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

An order of Hitsumabushi comes with soup, dashi, pickles, and condiments like nori, wasabi, and spring onions. Una Una (Bugis+)

Kogane Yama – Bugis Junction
Bugis Junction #02-50, 200 Victoria Street, Singapore 188021
Opening Hours: 11am – 10pm Last order 9:30pm (Sun – Thurs),
11am – 11pm Last Order 10:30pm (Fri – Sat)

Kogane Yama, which name means “golden mountain” in Japanese, initially starting serving tempura piled up like a mini-mountain on rice bowls. It has expanded its menu to cater to customers who would enjoy a greater variety and more options, especially for regulars.

Japanese Eel has become the trendy food of late, leading to this bowl of Unagi Avocado Don ($14.90) – grilled unagi in sweet-savoury sauce, with slices of buttery avocado on sushi rice.

Mix in the onsen-tamago which will create this silky consistency in the rice.

I preferred the Unagi Tugi Don ($13.90) due to the addition of tamago toji in which the eel is cooked with soft-scrambled eggs and onion, which creates this warm, fuzzy feeling.

MAI by Dashi Master Marusaya
46 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore 089858
Tel: +65 6327 8414
Opening hours: 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 11pm (Mon – Sat), Closed Sun

A must-try main at MAI is the Unagi River Eel Donabe ($38++), an aromatic claypot rice cooked with dashi, soy sauce, Japanese sake, and well-simmered with the flavours of fresh seafood.

If dining with a group, each order is good for sharing among 4 persons. Find it under the a la carte section of the menu.

It takes about 45 minutes for each Donabe to be prepared from scratch, so it is best to pre-order before you come.

Even if you are familiar with the local claypot rice, this Japanese Donabe version comes across with less salty with more of that deep-lingering taste of dashi.

As for the rice, the famous Hokkaido Yumepirika rice is used, known for its soft fluffy taste, and glossy appearance. Another winning element is the layer of crisp rice found at the bottom of the pot (which we Singaporeans will call guo ba).

Enjoy the freshwater eel’s smoky grilled taste in the tender, delicate flesh that is so fatty good. MAI by Dashi Master Marusaya

Unaemon @ GOCHI
Capital Square, 23 Church Street, #01-02/08, Singapore 049481
Opening Hours: 11:30am – 9pm (Mon – Sun)

Established in Japan in 1950, Unaemon was co-founded in Japan by the owner of Taga, a 147-year old Unagi specialty restaurant, and the third owner of Kiyoizumi, a historical Unagi restaurant in Hinode-cho, Yokohama.

Unaemon serves up Unaju ($32, $36), Hitsumabushi ($28.50, $33, $46), Unagi Bento ($19.50) and other ala carte dishes such as Grilled Egg with Sauce ($29.50), Smoked Eel ($15), Fried Eel ($18), and Eel Egg Roll.

Some of the special features include the rice which is sourced from the famous Nanatsuboshi brand in Hokkaido, and sweet barbecue sauce which has been continuously replenished since the restaurant was founded close to 150 years ago.

Comparatively, the pieces were not as crisp, and what I didn’t fancy as much was that there were several small bones (too many) within which affected the overall eating experience. Unaemon (Capital Square)

Tsukiji Japanese Restaurant
Orchard Central #12-02
Tel: +65 6634 2803
Opening Hours: Lunch 12pm – 3pm, Dinner 6pm – 10:30pm (Mon – Sun)

Tsukiji Japanese Restaurant gathers 6 unique brands in one location giving you a wide selection of popular Japanese fare.

It has just launched an “Unasho” concept, offering Hitsumabushi of barbecued grilled eel with thick and savoury sauce over rice.

They also offer a Healthy Unagi Don ($23.80) with grilled unagi with seafood and vegetables over rice, and Unagi Shirayaki ($31.80) of grilled unagi with sea salt.

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