Updated: December 12, 2018
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Anago VS Unagi: Here Is How They Differ

Here's all you need to know about the differences between anago and unagi, two popular ingredients of Japan's traditional cuisine!

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Anago and unagi, what is the difference?

In Japan, anago and unagi are both important ingredients of the traditional cuisine. Anago (穴子) is a saltwater eel, and usually refers to the conger eel, while unagi (鰻) is a freshwater eel, and is commonly called the Japanese eel which is found not only in Japan, but also in Korea, parts of China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The pictures below show how the eels differ in appearance. The unagi is almost black and is usually much bigger than the light brown anago.
animali_unagi
unagi, softwater eel
animal_anago
anago, saltwater eel
The taste, texture and nutritional properties are also very different. The unagi has around twice the amount of fat compared to the anago, so the taste is much richer and the texture is softer. In terms of vitamins minerals too, unagi has a much higher content of vitamins B, D, E, and calcium compared to the anago. This is not to say that anago has poor nutritional value, rather, unagi has a very high one. Unagi is known as a superfood that gives you a lot of stamina, and traditionally, it was the food of choice to help fight summer fatigue induced by the sweltering hot Japanese summer.

Difference in cuisine

The way both eels are used in Japanese cuisine is also quite different.

Unagi

The most common way to cook unagi is by cooking it on skewers, dipping it a couple of times in a soy-based sauce during the process.
unagi_tenderized
unagi being steamed
The unagi is sometimes tenderized by being placed in a wooded steamer for a few minutes before being broiled.
dipping_unagi
It is then dipped in a "tare" sauce before being cooked and intermittently while being cooked.
unagi_broiled
It is broiled until its exterior becomes dark brown and crisp; the interior, however, remains very soft.
unaju
Pieces of unagi are usually served placed over a bed of rice in a lacquered rectangular box. Served in this way, it is called unaju. You also find it served in a standard bowl over rice, in which case, in is called unadon.

Anago

Anago is found as a sushi neta (topping) or cooked tempura style.
anago_sushi
As a sushi topping, it is not served raw, rather, it is simmered in a sweet and savoury sauce before being used as neta. You don't need to dip anago sushi into soy sauce.
anago_tempura
Another popular way to cook anago is by deep-frying it tempura style.
anago_tendon
If you have the chance, you should definitely try anago as a topping for tendon (bowl of rice topped with various tempura ingredients).

Difference in price

Anago dishes are on average much cheaper than unagi dishes. Unagi is somewhat of a delicacy; an unaju box such as the one pictured above should cost you about ¥3,000 to ¥6,000 whereas an anago tendon should cost you between ¥1,000 to ¥2,000.
tabikamome
Japanese food culture enthusiast. Love to explore new areas and discover local specialties.

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