Doyo No Ushi No Hi (土用の丑の日) is a day in mid July – this year falling on July 29 – dedicated to eating unagi (うなぎ), or eel. In Japanese, doyo (土用) is a word given to the 18-19 day period preceding the change of seasons; ushi (丑) is the ox zodiac sign in Chinese astrology. Ushi no hi (丑の日) means, literally, day of the ox. The day of the ox falls within this doyo period, which results in the Doyo No Ushi No Hi, literally translated to “day of the ox of the seasonal change period.”
The Doyo No Ushi No Hi tradition of eating unagi started in the Edo period. During this time there was (and still is, in fact) a long-held belief that on Doyo No Ushi No Hi eating food beginning with う, or u, would bring relief from the summer’s oppressive heat and humidity. It’s said that during the Edo period, there was a man who owned an eel restaurant who had fallen on hard times because he was having trouble selling his unagi in the heat of the summer. The restaurant owner was a friend of Hiraga Gennai, a well-known author, painter, physician and pharmacologist of the time. When the restaurant owner went to Gennai asking for help, Gennai pointed out that since unagi started with the ‘u’ character, the restaurant owner should advertise with that in mind. Gennai drew a sign for the restaurant stating that since Doyo No Ushi No Hi was nearing, that it was the best time to eat unagi.
Unagi isn’t eaten solely because of the belief that it’s good to eat ‘u’ foods on Doyo No Ushi No Hi, however; unagi actually has the nutritional benefits to back its claim. During the summer months, it’s often too hot for our bodies to keep up energy, so our bodies are often too tired to want to eat a full, nutritional meal, so we eat less food than we would during cooler months. Unagi is a food that’s jam-packed with protein, calcium, and with many vitamins, (A, B1, B2, D, and especially E) many of them helpful in keeping up stamina.
In the Kanto region of Japan, steamed unagi is popular while in Kansai, the most popular unagi is grilled. The unagi is then covered with a special, sweet sauce, sprinkled with sansho pepper and served over a bowl of rice, called unadon (鰻丼). Another popular way to serve unagi is as kabayaki (蒲焼き), which is simply grilled unagi served on skewers.
At Asahi, you can buy frozen, pre-cooked unagi. This unagi simply needs to be defrosted and is ready to re-steam or put on the grill. Pre-made unagi sauce is also available, however, if you wish to make your own sauce at home, you can also purchase the ingredients (soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and cooking sake.)
Are you going to eat unagi this Doyo No Ushi No Hi, or are you going to try to add more ‘u’ foods, such as udon or umeboshi plums, to your diet that day in order to fight the summer heat?