Exploring Kabayaki based cuisine

Japanese cuisine is a fascinating culinary tradition. It is beloved for its intriguing variety. Kabayaki is one contributing factor for that. Are you curious to find out more about Kabayaki based cuisine? Read on to find out more about it!

An introduction to the term Kabayaki and Kabayaki cuisine

You may have come across the term Kabayaki when you looked through the menu of a Japanese restaurant. Nevertheless do you know the meaning of the term? Well for starters, Kabayaki is a Japanese term meaning of Cattail (a type of flowering plant) Grilling style. This is due to a supposed shared resemblance between Kabayaki style grilled dishes and the Cattail plant’s appearance and colour. While Unagi is the primary fish used in the Kabayaki cooking process, as can be seen by its prevalence on the menus of many Japanese eateries, other varieties of fish can and have also been used to make different Kabayaki dishes. We will be discussing some of these different kinds of Kabayaki food varieties as we move along on this journey together.

What is the Kabayaki cooking process?

Now let us explore the process behind the Kabayaki cooking method. As an example, we will discuss the Unagi Kabayaki dish. With regards to Unagi Kabayaki, there are two ways to prepare it. These methods vary according to whether it is made in the Kanto (Eastern) or Kansai(Western) region of Japan. In the Kanto region of Japan (which includes places such as Tokyo) Unagi is slit down its back and cut slightly in two (this  process is known as butterflying) and is portioned into fillets. 

These fillets are then skewered and grilled. They are then steamed before being placed in a type of sauce known as Kabayaki Tare sauce (a sauce specially made for making Kabayaki dishes that has ingredients such as soya sauce, oyster sauce and various other culinary building blocks) before being grilled again. This process makes the Unagi meat very tender.

In the Kansai region(which includes places such as Osaka and Kyoto), the Unagi is cut through its belly and is grilled without being steamed and is often served with hot rice to tenderise it better. This different cooking procedure makes the eel meat a little more chewy and thereby provides a slightly varied kind of gastronomic experience.

Different kinds of Kabayaki dish ingredients

Now a question may arise in your mind. Are there different kinds of Kabayaki dish ingredients that are available apart from Unagi? Well, let’s find out together. As it turns out, it is possible to make Kabayaki dishes using a variety of ingredients. They include different kinds of fish and even vegetarian variations. With regards to the types of fish we will be discussing, we will look briefly at Whitefish with a particular emphasis on Tilapia. Furthermore, we will look at other fish such as the Pacific Saury and Catfish as alternative Kabayaki ingredients.


Whitefish is one type of fish that includes a variety of fish species. Moreover Whitefish such as Cod, Halibut and Tilapia to name a few such fish can serve as alternatives to Unagi when making Kabayaki culinary creations. These fishes have a flaky texture and mild sweet flavour making them an ideal alternative to Unagi that provides a unique dining experience.


Let us now take a closer look at one of these varieties of Whitefish, the Tilapia. Known to be the third most farmed fish in aquaculture, Tilapia are originally native to parts of Africa and the Middle East region. With regards to how Tilapia feels and tastes, its meat is firm and it tastes slightly sweet. As a consequence of Tilapia’s texture and flavor, it is a really fascinating alternative ingredient to use for Kabayaki food products.

Pacific Saury

We now move on to explore another different fish called the Pacific Saury. This fish is also known by the alternative name of Mackerel Pike. Beyond its different names, it is a prominent ingredient in East Asia including Japan, Korea and China. On top of that, Pacific Saury is used in Russian cuisine as well. With that said, let us turn our attention to Japanese cuisine and more specifically, to Kabayaki dishes. As a matter of fact, it is possible to transform Pacific Saury into grilled or canned Kabayaki food products. The Japanese term for Pacific Saury is Sanma. The name means Autumn Knife Fish. As for its flavour profile, Pacific Saury has a rich fatty taste due to its fat content and can feel slightly oily.


Another fish used as an alternative to Unagi when making Kabayaki dishes is Catfish. One of the reasons for this is the possibility of developing a similar taste and texture for the meat of these two sea creatures according to one chef in Japan.

A table for your convenience

Type of Fish IngredientTaste and Texture
White Fish like Cod and HalibutMildy sweet flavour and Flaky texture
TilapiaSlightly sweet flavour and firm meat texture
Pacific SauryFatty taste and oily texture due to its fat and oil content
CatfishHas a similar taste and texture to Unagi


Places where you can buy Kabayaki food products

What about the question of where you can purchase Kabayaki food products? They are purchasable from different places. You can purchase them online through websites such as Lazada, Shopee and Pickme. Apart from these websites, Kabayaki is available at Japanese specialty stores as well as major supermarket chains such as NTUC Fairprice or Cold Storage.

An opportunity to explore a whole new world of culinary possibilities

Now that you have gained some understanding of Kabayaki culinary options and its many possible ingredient varieties, it is our hope that you will develop a deeper appreciation for this type of Japanese cuisine. Furthermore, we hope that this knowledge will encourage you to explore intriguing alternative kinds of Kabayaki dishes and enjoy trying them with your friends, colleagues and family members. Till our next culinary exploration, take care and enjoy the wonders of Kabayaki based food.

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