The Difference: Unagi vs Kabayaki vs Teriyaki

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)”?

Further, Kabayaki is sometimes confused with “Teriyaki (照り焼き)”, but what is the difference between them?

Unagi vs Kabayaki vs Teriyaki

For those who know little about these Japanese terms, today let me explain what each of them refers to.

What is Unagi?

Unagi Eel

“Unagi (うなぎ, 鰻)” is the Japanese word for “eel” whose common edible varieties for Japanese cuisine are the Japanese eel called “Nihon Unagi (ニホンウナギ: Anguilla japonica)” and the European eel (ヨーロッパウナギ) known as Anguilla anguilla. 

The supply of natural eels for food in Japan is very limited, only accounts for less than 0.3% in the market, so along with cultured Nihon Unagi, cultured European eels imported from China can be seen in supermarkets.

Unagi is known as freshwater fish but migrates down rivers to the sea to spawn.

Meanwhile, the eel variety similar to Unagi, “Anago (アナゴ, 穴子)” is a species of saltwater fish, and the most commonly eaten variety in Japan is “Ma-Anago (真穴子)”, which is referred to as conger myriaster or conger eel in English.

What is Kabayaki?

Unagi no Kabayaki on Top of a Bowl of Rice (Unadon)

Kabayaki is almost synonymous with grilled Unagi, but the Kabayaki dish is also made of other long scaleless fish 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)”, and “Wakayatsume (ワカヤツメ: lamprey)”.

Actually, known as a kind of Teriyaki, Kabayaki is a preparation of those fish varieties where their square fish fillets are skewered and then grilled over a direct flame.

During the cooking, the fillets are dipped in a thick sweet Tare sauce made with Koikuchi Shoyu (dark soy sauce), mirin, sugar, and sake. 

The resultant Unagi dish is known as “Unagi no Kabayaki (うなぎの蒲焼)” which is often placed on top of a bowl of rice to make the “Donburi (丼)” rice bowl dish called “Unadon (鰻丼)“.

What is Teriyaki?

Buri no Teriyaki

Teriyaki is a cooking technique used in Japanese cuisine where meats are brushed with or dipped in a sweet soy sauce-based sauce during cooking to make the surface shiny, as the word in its name “Teri (照り, テリ)” refers to a shine.

The most common ingredients prepared for Japanese Teriyaki dishes are chicken thighs or breasts and the yellowtail called “Buri (ブリ)”. 

“Buri no Teriyaki (ブリの照り焼き)” is the best-known Teriyaki dish in Japan, but I have never heard of the dish named Unagi no Teriyaki, even though Kabayaki is a kind of Teriyaki.

(Reference Pages: Wikipedia ウナギ, 蒲焼, 照り焼き )


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.

1 Response

  1. June 30, 2022

    […] The Difference: Unagi vs Kabayaki vs Teriyaki … […]

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