A couple of weeks ago, I went to Matsuka, one of Matsumoto’s top unagi restaurants. Matsuka (and most other unagi shops) serves the classic-style grilled eel on top of rice with a good slathering of the traditional salty-sweet-soy-saucy unagi sauce.
While Matsuka’s unagi is amazing, if you are looking for a completely different (and, yes, still very tasty!) way to enjoy Japanese eel, go check out Sakuraya.
Sakuraya is another super popular and long-standing unagi restaurant here in Matsumoto. They do serve the classic unagi rice bowls, but what you really want to try is their specialty, «unagi-no-sasa-mushi.» What that translates to is sticky rice stuffed with unagi which is then wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed to delicious perfection.
The restaurant has several different lunch sets to choose from, but I went with the one pictured above which includes two of the steamed unagi bundles and couple of small side dishes. Unwrap the bamboo leaves to reveal the unagi-stuffed sticky rice!
Take a bite and you’ll notice that the sticky rice has taken on the sweet fragrance and delicate flavor from the bamboo leaves. Delicious!
As for the unagi rice bowl, I felt it was much more lighter in both flavor and size when compared to Matsuka’s version. The unagi pieces were smaller and had less unagi sauce on top but Sakuraya provides extra sauce at your table so you can adjust the flavor how you like.
Though Sakuraya has been around for quite a while (since 1934!), their restaurant is housed inside a newer building that is well equipped for handling a large influx of lunch-goers or big groups. It didn’t seem like you needed to worry about the place being sold out everyday. One nice thing is that the staff was dressed in kimono!
You’ll find Sakuraya about a 5-minute walk from the castle or 15-minute walk from the station. They serve both lunch and dinner as well. Enjoy!