Unadon vs Unaju: The Difference between the 2 Grilled Eel Rice

There are several rice bowl dishes generally called “Donburi (丼)” that have been widely enjoyed by us Japanese for a long time, which include “Katsudon (カツ丼)”, “Oyakodon (親子丼)”, and “Tendon (天丼)”, but do you know what Donburi dish has the longest history in Japan?

Actually, the rice bowl dish that was first created in Japan is “Unadon (うな丼)”, whose origin is said to date back to the Bunka era (1804 to 1818) in the Edo period. As you might already know, the word included in the name, “Don (丼)” is the abbreviation for “Donburi (丼)” meaning “rice bowl” or “rice bowl dish” in Japanese.

At this point, you might wonder “Then, what does the former word in each Donburi name stand for?” Actually, “Katsu (カツ)” refers to Japanese-style pork cutlets, “Oyako (親子)” means “parent and child (in this case, chicken and egg)”, “Ten (天)” is the abbreviation for Tempura, and “Una (うな)” stands for “Unagi (鰻)” meaning “eel”.

The Difference between Unadon and Unaju

Let’s get back on track. Today, the rice bowl dish with eel, Unadon is not only one of the most beloved Donburi dishes in Japan, but I hear it has also become popular in many overseas countries.

Those who have had the Japanese rice bowl dish before may also have heard of “Unaju (うな重)”, a Japanese dish very similar to Unadon. In fact, if you compare Unadon and Unaju in appearance, you might think they are the same thing.

However, the 2 grilled eel dishes are different in a certain respect. Then, how is Unadon different from Unaju? Today, I will talk about that.

Unadon (うな丼, 鰻丼)

Unadon Grilled Eel Rice Bowl

First off, Unadon is the bowl of rice topped with grilled eel where bones are removed from the eel and the boneless eel is grilled without seasoning. Following that, the cooked eel is brushed with a sweet savory sauce made from dark soy sauce, Mirin sweet cooking rice wine, sugar and Sake rice wine.

The grilled eel itself is called “Unagi no Kabayaki (鰻の蒲焼)” and is placed on top of the hot steamed plain rice on which a sweet sauce made with sugar and soy sauce is poured. As I mentioned above, Unadon stands for “Unagi Donburi”, so it is definitely served in a rice bowl, or a “Donburi (丼)”.

Unaju (うな重, 鰻重)


On the other hand, the name of the traditional Japanese dish, Unaju is composed of 2 words, “Una” for “Unagi” meaning “eel” and “Ju (重)” with a meaning of layers, which is associated with “Jubako (重箱)”, a traditional Japanese lacquered food box with a lid that is similar to Bento boxes. As a matter of fact, Unaju is a Japanese grilled eel dish definitely served in a Jubako box.

As you can guess from the above, the difference between Unadon and Unaju only comes from the difference in the container. In other words, the dishes inside are essentially the same thing.

However in general, Unaju is topped with a larger amount of grilled eel and is pricey as compared to Unadon. Besides, Unaju usually comes with a Suimono soup with eel guts, in addition to some small plates or bowls of side dishes, and is higher in rank than Unadon.

(Reference Pages: Wikipedia 鰻丼, 蒲焼 )


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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