In Japan, there is a special day in July every year for eating eel or "unagi" in Japanese. This day is known in Japanese as 土用の丑の日 “Doyo Ushi No Hi”. “Doyo” means the end of seasons. It comes from the ancient Chinese almanac. It is a special period of 18 days before the first day of each season. There are four Doyo periods each year. In 2011, eel day is July 21st.
“Ushi” means Ox. This refers to the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig) There is a reason for the order of the animals, but that is another story. Each year has a different animal. You can check which animal sign you were born under by checking the place mat at any Chinese restaurant. However, in ancient times, not only the year, but also the days and the hours of the day were assigned these animal signs. “Ushi No Hi” means Ox day in Japanese.
Here, we are talking about the ox day within the doyo period before the start of Autumn. The day is usually about July 21st, but changes every year. By the way, in America it has become the practice of marking the first day of each season on the equinox or solstice. However, in many other cultures, this is marked on the mid-points between them. In America, the first day of Autumn is September 22nd, but in Japan, it’s August 7th.
July is a very hot month, and people eat eel to restore their vitality and stamina. The custom of eating unagi on this day dates back to the Edo period. Eel is very nutritious and is a famous stamina food. It contains vitamins A, B1, B2, D, and especially E. It is a Japanese delicacy eaten all year round, but especially in the summer and of course everyone eats it on Doyo Ushi No Hi. On that day, supermarkets and stores are stocked full of eel dishes. The eel is a freashwater river fish and is often raised on fish farms.
I’d never heard of eating eel in America, but let me tell you, it’s delicious. It is a very tender, white fish and doesn’t have a fishy taste at all. It is usually grilled and basted with a sweet soy sauce based sauce. This is Kabayaki style, and is often served on a bowl of rice. It’s one of my favorite Japanese foods. If you ever have the chance, please try it and get your stamina back.