Unagi Don (Grilled Eel Rice Bowl) was one of my favorite dishes before I stopped eating fish. I still vividly remember sitting on tatami (traditional Japanese flooring) in a small, unassuming wooden house in Kyoto, Japan as a teenager, enjoying one of the best bowls of Unagi don I’ve ever had with my aunt’s family. Today I will attempt to recreate that soft, luscious eel with glazed eggplants.
In Japan, Grilled Eel is also known as Unagi no Kabayaki, which points to the specific preparation method (cut into square fillets, skewered, dipped in sauce, and grilled, etc) of fish such as eel. Unagi no Kabayaki is an extremely popular Japanese dish known for the soft, melt-in-your mouth eel meat paired with its sweet, savory, and umami sauce. Laid over a bed of fluffy rice, the sauce and the fish juices seep through to create the bowl of anyone’s dreams.
What makes you think you can recreate that with eggplants?! Well, for one, when cooked properly, eggplants really can achieve a similar creamy, buttery, melt-in-your mouth type of feel. And when split open and coated with unagi sauce, they look just like Unagi no Kabayaki! (I also sprinkled sesame seeds to conceal the eggplant seeds…)
The Unagi Sauce
The Unagi Sauce is a grilling sauce marked by its bright sweet and savory flavors, as well as its caramelized undertones. While you can definitely find this in grocery stores, it is actually very easy to make. All you need is 4 main ingredients: 1) soy sauce 2) mirin 3) rice wine 4) brown sugar. The sauce is very similar to teriyaki sauce, and entirely customizable as well! Feel free to adjust the proportions of each ingredient to your liking.