Unagi vs. Kabayaki vs. Teriyaki: What’s the Difference?
Have you ever heard of the traditional Japanese dish called Unagi no Kabayaki (うなぎの蒲焼)?
If you like Japanese food, you may know what the word Unagi (うなぎ/鰻) means, but what about Kabayaki (蒲焼)?
Unagi vs. Kabayaki vs. Teriyaki
Further, some overseas people seem to confuse Kabayaki with Teriyaki (照り焼き), but what is the difference between the two?
For those who know little about these Japanese terms, let me give an overview of each today.
What is Unagi (うなぎ)?
First, Unagi (うなぎ/鰻) is the word for eel in English, whose common edible varieties for Japanese cuisine are the Japanese eel called Nihon Unagi or Anguilla japonica and the European eel Anguilla anguilla.
The supply of natural eels for food in Japan is limited, only accounting for less than 0.3% of the market.
So with cultured Nihon Unagi, supermarkets typically line up cultured European eels imported from China on the shelf.
Although Unagi is known as freshwater fish, it migrates down rivers to the sea to spawn.
Meanwhile, the eel similar to Unagi, Anago (アナゴ/穴子), is a species of saltwater fish whose most commonly eaten variety is Ma-Anago (真穴子), known as conger myriaster or conger eel in English.
What is Kabayaki (蒲焼)?
Next, here in Japan, Kabayaki is almost synonymous with grilled Unagi, but the dish can also use other long scaleless fish as its main ingredient
such as Hamo (ハモ: pike conger), Anago (アナゴ: conger eel), Dojo (ドジョウ: loach), Mutsugoro (ムツゴロウ: Boddart’s goggle-eyed goby), or Wakayatsume (ワカヤツメ: lamprey).
Kabayaki is a kind of Teriyaki, and it’s a preparation of these fish varieties, where their square fillets are skewered and grilled over a direct flame.
During the cooking, chefs dip the fillets in a thick sweet Tare sauce typically made with Koikuchi Shoyu or dark soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake.
The resulting thing using eel is Unagi no Kabayaki (うなぎの蒲焼), which often comes on top of a bowl of white rice, and the Donburi dish is called Unadon (鰻丼).
What is Teriyaki (照り焼き)?
Last, Teriyaki is a cooking technique used in Japanese cuisine, where chefs brush (or dip) meats with (or in) a sweet soy sauce-based sauce during cooking to make their surface shiny, as Teri (照り) in its name stands for a shine.
The most popular ingredients for Japanese Teriyaki dishes are chicken thigh/breast and the yellowtail called Buri (ブリ).
Here, Buri no Teriyaki (ブリの照り焼き) is the best-recognized Teriyaki dish. But I have never heard of Unagi no Teriyaki, even though Kabayaki is a kind of Teriyaki.