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Publication Date : 30-09-2013
Hamamatsu also delights epicures of grilled eel
This city of 800,000 people—which exceeded the population of Shizuoka city, the prefectural capital, thanks to the what became known as Great Merger of the Heisei Era—continues to vie with Ustunomiya for the top spot in consumption of gyoza.
Hamamatsu gyoza is one of the top brands of so-called B-class gourmet cuisine, local dishes popular as everyday fare. A circle of gyoza is fused together in the shape of the pan it was cooked in and garnished with moyashi bean sprouts in the middle.
“Gyoza were sold by street vendors in Hamamatsu after World War II. It seems the round shape developed when chefs wanted to fry as many gyoza as possible in a pan,” said Kimitaka Saito, chairman of the Hamamatsu Gyoza Society, which has promoted local gyoza since 2005. However, that method of cooking led to a space in the middle.
“So boiled moyashi was put there. Later it was found that moyashi removes the greasy aftertaste of pork. I’ve heard that’s why this style became established,” he said.
Gyoza became a daily staple for Hamamatsu residents, apparently because the city was home to intensive pig farming and cabbage cultivation.
To take a photo of the beautifully round Hamamatsu gyoza dish, I ordered 18 pieces (a serving for three) at Hamataro, a popular gyoza restaurant. It was quickly served on a sizzling cast-iron plate and tasted sweet, which is said to result just from the cabbage.
I ate the gyoza in a variety of ways: plain, with tare (sauce made with chili oil), and tare with yuzu kosho (paste made from yuzu zest and chili peppers). After each couple of gyoza, I ate some of the moyashi, which refreshed my taste buds.
Unagi farming threatened
The other food you shouldn’t miss in Hamamatsu is eel.
A man called Sojiro Hattori began eel farming on a trial basis in the Fukagawa district in Tokyo in 1879, but it eventually got into full swing in Hamamatsu.
Hamamatsu developed as a factory city, and many families were already in the habit of buying cooked foods to take home.
That kind of lifestyle probably helped create the city’s unique food culture of items like gyoza and grilled eel.
Wild eels are caught in Lake Hamana and the Tenryugawa river while they are still young and cultured in a concrete pond near the lake. It takes up to 1 or 1½ years for the eels to reach full maturity.
Fishermen had a bad season from December through this spring.
“The grilled eel on the market is eel from the previous catch. I don’t know how much it will cost next year,” said a spokesperson of the Lake Hamana farmed fish association.
I ordered una-ju (grilled eel on top of rice in a lacquered rectangular box) that uses one whole eel at the association’s restaurant Maruhama, located near JR Hamamatsu Station. It cost 2,500 yen, which is much more reasonable than prices in Tokyo.
This restaurant serves una-ju Kanto-style, with tare sauce brushed on the eel after it is steamed.
Taking into account all the expenses, including labor, the fishery association said it can barely make a profit at this price. But the restaurant still serves eel at reasonable prices in an effort to continue to attract customers.
The following day, in a change from sampling the city's specialties, I visited Hamamatsu Castle and then took a bus to Kanzanji Onsen near the lake. I rode a cable car to the Hamanako Music Box Museum. From the top of the building, I had a panoramic view of Lake Hamana, where I hoped the eels were thriving.
It takes 1½ hours from JR Tokyo Station to Hamamatsu Station by Tokaido Shinkansen.
For more information call the Hamamatsu tourism convention bureau at +81 (053) 458-0011.