Tuesday, January 26, 2010

[台北] - 肥前屋 HIZEN-YA Taipei - spectacular unagi over rice (unaju 鰻重)

Somewhere on Zhongshan North Road 中山北路 off into an unsuspecting alleyway is a Japanese eatery that all the locals know about. The wait time if there is a line, can be anywhere from 20 mins to upwards of an hour, but well worth it.

The locals call it "Fei Chien Ou" 肥前屋 which in separate characters translate to "fat" "front" "house". Technically it should be the other way around (ie you become a fat a$$ after the meal not before). However if you read it from a Japanese perspective, it translates to Hizen-Ya, where Ya = House, and the name Hizen came from an old province in Japan that consisted of what is known as Saga and Nagasaki prefectures.

The interior

At Hizen-Ya, you can get donburi, agemono, tenpura, kushi yaki (skewers), sakana shioyaki (grilled fish), or sakana nitsuke (stewed fish) here (no sushi or big ass stupid name rolls, teriyaki, no udon, no soba here), perhaps more like a real Japanese Shokudo in Taipei. All of which are very very good.

However Hizen-Ya is most famous for Una-Ju 鰻重, or perfectly grilled freshwater eel over a bed of rice inside a laquered rectangular box with a lid. Accept no substitutes or replacements. If the eel is served inside a round ceramic (or god forbid plastic) bowl, it's Una-Don 鰻丼. It's pseudo if you find carrots and broccoli alongside. Leave that $hizzle in the frozen $ection please.

After having unaju here, you will never want to eat frozen pre-grilled unagi from China served over Cal Rose rice with an overly sweet goopy sauce ever again in the U$A.

All unagi here is sourced to local FRESH live and kicking local Taiwanese freshwater eels, prepped from scratch in house.

For about NT$240 or US$8 (which is a bloody bargain), you can get a LARGE unaju (which is easily a fraction of what it would cost in Japan).

Not only are the eels prepped from scratch, but the preparation remains traditional and unchanged for the past 20 or odd years Hizen-Ya has been around.

- the eels are first grilled, then steamed, then grilled again to remove excess fat, keeping the interior moist, and the skin cripsy, toasty, and flakey. Carefully controlled process. They do this enough in advance that the average unaju order takes less than 5 minutes to get to your table.

- the unagi sauce is actually an in house made stock (nikiri) made from unagi bones and arguably seasoned with soy sauce, mirin. Not the pre-made teriyucky big ass stupid name roll sweet sauce prevalent around California. The sauce here is perfect, not too salty, very very mildly and natural sweet taste.

- 2 additional signs of authenticity. You sweat like a muddafugga after the meal (well to be fair ventilation is a bit shoddy once it gets crowded in here). Also the amount of unagi they give you in a large order COVERS THE RICE where you practically can't see it. Call it A$N cheapne$$ if you will, but I want my unagi to play center stage.

- tasty rice! Taiwanese rice?

- shchimi torigashi (ie udon pepper spice) and the obligatory sansho (by House Foods) self help on the tables. Sansho elevates Hizen-Ya's unaju to even greater heights.

A sexcellent unagi appetizer here is unagi dashimaki tamago. Juicy and delicious. It's unagi inside an egg omlette if you will.

Tenpura here is beautiful. Authentic flavor, not greasy but hearty. The batter looks like golden snowflakes. Pictured is the dipping sauce that is miles better than anything in Northern California

At lunchtime if you are lucky they have grilled unagi liver skewers. Sooooo good. They usually sell out so you won't be able to order any for dinner. Ditto for stewed fish (nitsuke).

Word of warning, most cab drivers don't know where this place is, so just have them drop you off by the intersection of the main road (if you see 24 hr convenience store then you are close). It's actually not too bad of a walk from the closest MRT station (15 minutes or so).

肥前屋 (Hizen-Ya / Fei Chien Ou)
台北市中山區中山北路一段121巷13之2號‎  (Taipei City Zhongsan District, Zhongsan North Rd, 1st Portion, Alley 121, 13 of No 2)
Tel: 02-2561-7859‎


  1. Yeah 肥前屋 is quite an ass kicker especially when compared to California. Perfect quick fix meal with everything in place and definitely a must try if visiting in town once, although to be honest I would rather focus on the izakaya scene or some of the more upscale kappo+sushi places in town, or a local seafood joint.