The summertime is in full swing, and with this heat, we are all really feeling it.
This year is a bit different in terms of how this sunny-filled season looks with social distancing, but even with regulations keeping us safe from the current pandemic, there isn’t anything as strict in place to help with the temperature outside. However, one Center City eatery has started offering just that, some relief from the weather in the form of a delicious Japanese culinary tradition, and whether or not you’re loving the heat, Zama’s Doyo no Ushi no Hi special is a treat.
The tradition of Doyo no Ushi no Hi originates in Japan and is virtually a day set aside to eat eel in the summer.
“It has been our tradition since the late Edo era,” says Chef Zama of Zama Restaurant. “There are various theories for how it started, but the most famous, and my favorite one is [the one] that Mr. Gennai Hirara spread: The story goes that an owner of an eel shop was troubled by the lack of eel sales in the summer during the Edo period (which was in the 1700s). He consulted with a scholar, Mr. Gennai Hirara and it was recommended that a paper declaring ‘Today is Doyo no Ushi no Hi’ be posted in the store. It began to spread and became a serious hit, repeating every summer. It is also said that it was quite possibly the first PR and consulting job for the food industry in Japan.”
Whether it was a ploy to get people to eat more eel or an actual movement that was formed to help aid a nation during the heat-laden time of the year, the practice of eating eel on Doyo no Ushi no Hi is actually extremely beneficial.
“Unagi (eels) are packed with protein, calcium and many vitamins (A, B1, B2, D and E) that are helpful in keeping your energy up during the hot weather. Eel fills you up with a lot of protein, but doesn’t leave you feeling too full in the heat,” says Zama. “Eating local fish is such a big tradition in Japan, so I believe that Northeastern, Long Island local live eel should also be a part of Philly’s dining experience. You’ll taste a sweet soy flavor with a hint of a smoky taste.”
On top of the health benefits of the eel, it also is delicious. The specialty dish is served with seasoned rice, Sansho peppers, diced cucumber, avocado and sushi tamago. Chef Zama also has pairing recommendations that go hand in hand with the notion of being health-conscious and satisfying for your taste buds as well.
“I’d recommend that you start the meal with some edamame. Edamame is filled with soy protein and is rich in fiber and antioxidants. The beans are gluten-free and low in calories and are also an excellent source of protein, calcium and iron, which is also helpful to keep your energy up. Plus it’s always a delicious way to start a meal,” adds Zama.
The eel ($21) is available both for take-out and also outdoor dining (reservations can be made on Zama’s website) now through Aug. 2.
On top of the Doyo no Ushi no Hi traditional meal, Zama Restaurant has also decided to begin to offer Omasake for takeout after receiving a number of requests for it.
The Omasake take-out includes a “chef’s choice” tasting menu that will highlight “the best of what the restaurant has to offer.” Philadelphians can expect 18 pieces of Nigiri and 6 kinds of Otsumami/Zensai dishes in their order. Orders for Omasake take-out ($100) must be placed ahead of time at 215-568-1027.
“Even with our limited fish options (due to COVID-19) we are still able to create various interesting flavors and delicacies for our Omakase based on our regulars’ favorites. You’ll be surprised, but not disappointed. It’s a chance for us to be creative and it’s nice to be able to offer this option to the public again,” says Zama. “We are open. Even with just takeout and outdoor dining options, we never stop thinking about our guests and creating fresh specials, so please keep checking us out.”
Zama (128 S. 19th St.) is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner with hours noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit zamaphilly.com