What do you eat when you’re tired and need to recharge?
Put down your cup of coffee and step away from that candy bar. Instead, head over to Kameido and make your way to the urban oasis that is Kameido Tenjin Shrine.
Right before the entrance, you’ll find a unique restaurant specializing in eel cuisine.
Hachibee (pronounced Hachi-beh) has the kind of old-town atmosphere that bespeaks years of experience and guaranteed good eating. If you’re feeling brave, you can take a peek inside the tank out by the front entrance, where live eels are kept to ensure freshness.
“Come in and sit wherever you like,” the owner and main chef, Mr. Yamazaki, calls out to me in a friendly voice.
Inside, the décor is homey and inviting, with warm wooden beams and an enticing red counter.
A tatami sitting room is available at the back for groups to relax and enjoy their meal, but since I’m by myself today I stay near the front. Flipping through the menu, there are tons of tempting choices, from the traditional una-juu (eels grilled to perfection served over rice) to a variety of kaisen-don (selected sashimi on rice). My pondering is only an act though, because I already know what I want to eat.
Peeking into the small aquarium housing a baby pet eel, I casually pose my query:
“I heard you serve eel ramen?”
“Yes, and we’re probably the only store in Tokyo that does!” Mr. Yamazaki answers me. “Depending on the season, we can only put out 10 to 15 bowls a day, so people often line up for it.”
The reason for the limited production is in the sheer time and number of eels it takes to create the dish. The ramen soup is made entirely from eel stock, and the number of eels it takes would easily amount to seventy una-juu servings!
“We don’t put anything else in there as the base. You know how most ramen use pork stock or chicken stock? None of that here—it’s just pure eel. You’ll understand when you taste it,” affirms Mr. Yamazaki proudly.
The ramen comes in two flavours: miso or soy sauce. Hachibee suggests the miso for first-timers who don’t want to be overwhelmed, but soy sauce for those who want the full eel experience.
I ask for soy sauce.
A few minutes later, an unassuming bowl featuring typical ramen fare arrives. Taking the spoon, I try a sip of the soup…
And immediately, my taste buds were awash with the rich, buttery, potent taste of eel! The flavour flooded my senses from the tip of the tongue to the back of my throat; yet upon swallowing, only a clean aftertaste remained, making me reach for a second sip, and a third, in quick succession.
Certainly, I had never tasted ramen like this! Seafood lovers will rejoice in how Hachibee has managed to capture the distinct umami and freshness of what good-quality eel should taste like with this unique invention.
The soup was not the only thing worth noting, though it shone the brightest in my opinion. The boiled egg had been steeped in eel sauce, and tasted delightfully creamy. The noodles were also of good-quality, with a wonderful al dente bite to them.
“Eels are high in nutrition, especially vitamin A. Eating eel has long been said to cure fatigue, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Of course we use the best eel here—brand name, so to speak. But the eel ramen is popular among women because in addition to all of that, eel stock is full of collagen and great for your skin!”
In recent years, more and more visitors have been taking note of the remarkable advantages of eating eel, so much that Hachibee has created an English and Chinese menu to cater to those who have come from afar.
If you’re new to the world of eel cuisine, I suggest having the una-juu to start. But for those who already have a taste for it, the eel ramen is a must-try; toting an unbelievable price tag of 830 yen to boot, this bowl of pick-me-up is just what the doctor ordered!
**Prices listed are as of June, 2017.