Unagi at Hizenya (肥前屋) (Taipei)
Unagi, Japanese for eel, is one of my favourite foods in the world. Whether it’s on a sushi roll or nigiri or on a bed of rice (ie, a donburi), there is just something about the sticky sweet soy sauce and melty texture of unagi that gets to me every time.
That said, not all unagi is good. Badly made unagi can have that really disgusting fishy smell, be slimy or chewy. I’ve had some poorly made unagi before, and I’ve also had some of the best (in Japan, of course), so I feel like I have a fairly good idea of what I’m talking about.
And so when I heard about Hizenya (肥前屋) in Taipei’s Zhongshan district, I knew I had to check it out. Tucked away in an alley off Zhongshan North Rd, in Taipei’s so-called Japan Town, Hizenya is nearly always a packed house, so make sure you get there early (they open 11:30am).
The decor inside is decidedly Japanese, with wooden tables and benches and Japanese artworks.
They also have a semi-open kitchen where you can see the chefs hard at work behind the counter.
Here is the menu, which is unfortunately available in Chinese only. The superstar of the menu is obviously their unaju (or unadon = unagi donburi), which comes in small (NT$190) and large (NT$340). They also have a ten don (with a tempura prawn), a pork katsu don with egg, a gyudon (beef) and a tamago don with just egg and green onions, as well as teishokus (sets) with katsu, yakiniku (BBQ), prawn and oyster. Fish options are also available, but everyone’s there for the unagi. If you want, there are some sides dishes and grilled/skewered meats, which I hear goes well with the Japanese beer.
On this busy day, we ordered a small unaju each, a couple of pork skewers and a steamed spinach. It’s hard to tell from just looking at the photos alone, so I will explain.
The unagi at Hizenya is first grilled, then steamed, then grilled again, supposedly to remove excess fat. As a result, the skin is a little crispy and the inside is moist and soft. Not quite in the melt-in-your-mouth territory I’ve experienced in Japan, but it’s pretty darn good nonetheless.
The sauce, which is probably just as important, is said to be made with a home-made stock plus soy sauce and mirin, which is flavoursome but not overly sweet or salty or sticky. It feels less heavy and more natural, which is a good thing.
Oh, and there’s free miso soup. Of course.
The verdict? Top range unagi that makes it easy to understand why the place is so popular, but not quite in the league of the best unagi I’ve had in Japan (that said, it’s probably still better than anything I’ve had in Sydney). There was a surprising number of fish bones in my unaju, which I ordinarily wouldn’t have minded but on this occasion one actually got suck in my throat. I actually went to see a doctor that night after being unable to get rid of that something’s there feeling, but as it turned out I had at some stage managed to dislodge the bone, thought not before it managed to scratch my throat a little bit.
Address: No. 13-2, Alley 121, Sec 1, Zhongsan North Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei (nearest MRT: Zhongshan, red line)
Phone: (02) 2511-5605
Hours: Tues-Sun 11:30-14:30, 17:30-21:00, closed Mondays