‘Matsu daki ume’
‘The longer the wait, the tastier’
Today my Japanese hosts are giving me a special treat – a meal in an eel (unagi) restaurant. Eels feature only rarely on English menus and then nearly always as a starter of smoked eel, but eels are so prized in Japan that there are restaurant s which serve nothing but eel. ‘Kabayaki’ or grilled eel, is slow food in the literal as well as the figurative sense. Good restaurants cut and clean their fish only after an order has been taken so a long wait can be expected before the food arrives. Kabayaki eel in restaurants is sometimes split into three ranks of ‘sho-chiku-bai’ – pine, bamboo and apricot, with pine being the best. The three kanji which make up the phrase can also be read ‘matsu dake ume’ which means ‘the longer the wait, the tastier’.
Our eel today, served simply with boiled rice and miso soup, was exquisite. The meal would normally be eaten seated on the floor, but today in deference to my western habits, tables and chairs were provided. A good idea, because in my experience, ‘the longer the wait, the harder the floor’