The original plan was to take Philippine Airlines’ inaugural flight to Hokkaido. But our Oct. 6 flight was moved to Dec. 6, so we opted to take the old route from Manila to Tokyo, then Hokkaido.
But God works in mysterious ways. With a five-hour layover at Narita airport in Tokyo, how would we pass the time? Someone Googled and found a place two train stops away.
After a 15-minute train ride and a 20-minute walk, we entered an old restaurant where chefs were filleting live eel. One would grab a live, freshwater eel from a bucket, nail the head to hold it steady, expertly slice the body in half lengthwise, and skillfully remove the middle bones and parts that needed cleaning.
A chef would slice the fillet in half while two others would stick two barbecue sticks into the fillet.
The fresh unagi was brought to another chef a few steps away who was standing in front of a grill, a bowl of teriyaki marinade by his side. He would dip the fillets in the marinade, neatly place them on the grill, flip them after a few minutes, remove the skewers, place the cooked unagi in a bento box with Japanese rice, pour some more sauce over it, and deliver these gems to hungry diners.
We squatted before a very low table with difficulty, our focus on the grilled unagi. Apart from the house specialty, two other items caught my eye: a crispy fried middle bone from the eel, and tamago (sweet scrambled egg) stuffed with unagi meat. Both were interesting, but nothing great. They looked better than they tasted.
A few minutes later, our hot miso soup arrived, then our bento box. Inside were two soy-grilled unagi fillets sitting on top of what I thought was too much piping-hot Japanese rice.
It was the softest, most delicious unagi I had ever tried in my life. Outstanding! It dawned on me that my diet without rice would have to end right then and there.
I also realized the rice was not that much, it was perfectly balanced and planned to fit the delicious unagi. Everyone kept oohing and aahing. It was that good.
Not only did we have a super great meal, we also broke the ice in our group of almost 30 foodies. By the end of our meal, we were joking around and having fun.
We took the train ride back to Narita to make it to the 5:55 p.m. flight to Hokkaido.
Freshness does make a huge difference in taste and quality. Now, I don’t really mind having a long layover in Narita.