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A bowl of unagi don with a large piece of grilled eel.
A bowl of unagi don with a large piece of grilled eel.

Unagi Don and More: Five Summer Dishes to Enjoy

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on June 15, 2024

Beat the summer heat with some of Japan’s favorite summer dishes! From unagi don to kakigori, these summer foods just might surprise you! Whether exploring city streets or enjoying a beach day, these seasonal favorites are a must-try!

Unagi don

Unagi, or freshwater eel, is a beloved and luxurious dish in Japan. Its popularity as a summer food stems from a centuries-old tradition linked to “Doyo no Ushi no Hi” (the day of the ox), a special day in the summer. This tradition began during the Edo period (1603-1868) when unagi restaurants, facing slow business during the hot months, launched a marketing campaign encouraging people to eat unagi to combat the summer heat.

A bowl of unagi don with an egg on top.
Unagi don usually comes with a sweet soy sauce. Image via Shutterstock

One popular way to enjoy unagi is through kabayaki, where chefs grill the eel with sweet soy and mirin sauce. Additionally, when preparing eel, chefs cut into it differently depending on the region. For instance, chefs cut Kansai-style eels from the belly, whereas they cut Kanto-style eels from the back. Furthermore, people often serve eel over rice. In this case, they call it unadon when serving it in a deep round bowl. However, if it’s in a square lacquerware box, they call it unaju.

Kakigori

Kakigōri, or shaved ice, is a classic summer treat in Japan, easily recognized by the red kanji “氷” (kōri) flags. This dessert was once a luxury due to the scarcity of ice. Today, it’s a popular refreshment available at festivals, beaches, and even at home. Traditionally, kakigōri involves shaving ice into a fluffy snow-like texture and topping it with strawberry, melon, or matcha syrups.

Two cups of rainbow kakigori.
Kakigoori is shaved ice. Image via Shutterstock

In modern times, the popularity of kakigōri has soared, especially during Japan’s hot, humid summers. Some specialty shops use “natural ice” harvested in winter and stored until summer, creating a finer, fluffier texture. This traditional dessert is a delightful way to beat the heat and a delicious part of Japanese culture, available in many variations from simple syrups to elaborate creations with ice cream and fruit.

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Reishabu

Reishabu, or cold pork shabu-shabu, is a refreshing summer dish in Japan. Unlike the traditional hot pot in winter, reishabu features thin slices of pork cooked in hot water and then chilled. These cool pork slices are on top of a salad of fresh vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and onion. The dish is accompanied by a dipping sauce, sesame, or ponzu, adding a savory flavor that complements the lightness of the meal.

A bowl of reishabu. Has chilled pork and salad.
Reishabu is chilled pork1 Image via Shutterstock

This cold version of shabu-shabu is perfect for hot summer days when you want something light and easy to prepare. Reishabu allows you to enjoy Japan’s fresh summer vegetables simply and deliciously. It can be easily made at home with a basic hot pot and ingredients found at most stores. Alternatively, you can find it at izakayas and shabu-shabu restaurants.

Somen Noodles

Nagashi somen, meaning “flowing noodles,” is a unique and fun way to enjoy somen noodles in Japan during summer. This dish involves catching thin, white noodles flowing down a bamboo shoot filled with running water. Restaurants set up bamboo channels with water where the noodles are dropped and flow towards the customers. The challenge is to catch the noodles with chopsticks before they pass by.

A bowl of somen noodles.
People sometimes eat noodles on a bamboo slide. Image via Shutterstock

This dish originated in the 1950s at a restaurant named Chiho no Ie. It gained popularity quickly due to its innovative use of natural spring water. Nowadays, this summer delicacy can be found across Japan, especially during the hot months from June to August. Nagashi somen is served at specialty restaurants, but you can also make it at home.

Hiyashi Chuuka

Hiyashi chuuka, which means “Cold Chinese-style Noodles,” is a popular Japanese summer dish featuring cold ramen noodles topped with various ingredients. Common toppings include omelet strips, cucumber, ham, and crab, all served with a sweet, savory, and slightly nutty soy sauce-based dressing. Hiyashi chuuka is perfect for hot days, offering a mix of textures and flavors that cool you down while satisfying your appetite.

A plate of hiyashi chuuka.
Hiyashi chuuka is a Chinese-inspired dish. Image via Shutterstock

These noodles are found at Japanese and Asian grocery stores, usually in the refrigerated section. These noodles come with soy sauce or sesame dressing, but making your dressing at home can be healthier and more flavorful. To prepare hiyashi chuuka, rinse the noodles under cold water and chill the toppings and dressing. This delicious and adaptable dish is a must-try for anyone looking to beat the summer heat!

Why should I try amazing summer dishes like unagi don?

A bowl of unagi don.
Have you ever had unagi don before? Image via Shutterstock

You should try these amazing summer dishes because they are perfect for beating the heat! From the refreshing chill of kakigōri to the savoriness of unagi-don, each bite is a unique taste of Japanese tradition and fun! So, dive into the delicious world of Japan’s summer cuisine and create unforgettable memories. Cool down, indulge, and enjoy the best Japanese flavors this summer! Have you ever tried any of these dishes? Which one did you like the best? Let us know in the comments below!

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