Hirokawa: Channel Your Inner Unagi
Hello! Who likes unagi? If you like unagi (traditional grilled eel), you've come to the right place. During our quick stay in Kyoto, we were lucky to try some of the best unagi in the Arashiyama... after almost two hours in line. Yes, and this was after hiking up Mt. Arashiyama to feed a bunch of macaque monkeys in the Iwatayama Monkey Park. To say that we were famished would be an understatement. And yet, for a good bowl of unagi, we were willing to wait that long. My only regret is that I didn't order more.
Anyway, the area surrounding Hirokawa is very quaint. Arashiyama littered with tiny shops and food stalls. And, it's walking distance from many popular tourist spots like the bamboo forest, monkey park, and the Inari Shrine. Among these attractions, Hirokawa is one itself. It's no wonder why people line up for over an hour for this one Michelin-starred restaurant that has been perfecting its craft for over 50 years! But, be sure to get here early so you can avoid the line. Lunch starts at 11:30 AM and ends at 2:30 PM. If you try to go late, you might still have to wait so you're better off going early.
NOTE: They cut off the line at 1:30 PM.
Overall, I liked Hirokawa a lot. I just wish I tried the other things on their menu (like the eel liver). The unagi was very good but I don't think it's the best I've ever had. Next time, I will definitely come early to avoid the line. Lastly, I hope you all understood that "Friends" reference in the title :)
When we were finally seated, we each ordered an Unagi Donburi, which is just Grilled Eel over rice. The eels are grilled over binchotan charcoal, which is the best type of charcoal you can use. It's the Ferrari of charcoals. This type of charcoal emits infrared rays and burns at a lower temperature. This prevents the meat from drying out while also making the eel crispy on the outside. Each bite is perfectly smoky and fatty in flavor. You can tailor each scoop to your preferred eel-to-rice ratio.
One of my favorite things about Japan is that the rice at almost every restaurant is amazing. The rice has a solid bite with just enough moisture and stickiness. The eel is drizzled with the house special sauce, which is like a thickened sweet soy sauce. Compared to other unagi I've had, the grilled surface is decently charred (not burnt) and suspiciously thin. The meat seemed also softer and fattier than usual.
PRO TIP: If you go during the winter months (September-December), you can order wild eel. Throughout the year, Hirokawa will serve farmed eel.
FUN FACT: Eel is naturally very beneficial to your health. It's rich in vitamins (A, B, D, E) and is also surprisingly low in sodium. Eel is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower triglyceride levels and reduce risk of heart disease. In Asian cultures, consuming eel is considered a powerful source of stamina, strength, and other health benefits. Don't eat too much because 1 fillet of eel is almost at the daily recommended intake of cholesterol.