A relative of the Unagi and Anago, Hamo はも (dagger-tooth pike conger) is a well known eel in Kyoto. Its popularity dates back centuries ago when refrigeration was non-existent. It was rare for one to be able to eat fresh fish. Fish were pickled and packed as sushi, which were hand-carried for days through the forests and mountains into land-locked Kyoto. Because of it does not spoil easily, Hamo has always been able to survive these arduous journeys.

HAMO

 

Courtesy of Rakuten

 

 

To many poets, Hamo has played a large role in their lives, to the point where they see it fitting to write about it.

 

京にありて

祭鱧食ぶ

ひたすらに 

              (Kaneko Tohta 金子兜太 1919 ~ present)

I am in Kyoto

At the festival, Hamo is

All I want to eat

 

竹の宿

昼水鱧を

きざみけり 

               (Matsuse Seisei 松瀬青々 1869 ~ 1937)

In a lodge within the bamboo grove

For lunch they are cutting

Pike conger 

Courtesy of Rakuten

 

 

Unfortunately, Hamo is not as popular in other parts of Japan because of the difficulty in preparing it.

 

The bones of the Hamo are not as thin and tiny as the Unagi or Anago, such that the bones cannot be eaten regardless of cooking method. Hence, the fillet of the Hamo has to be sliced very thinly (as much as 8 cuts per cm) to break the bones up. The slicing technique is known as Honegiri 骨切り (literally ‘bone cutting’). A skilled chef is able to slice up the bones, yet not cut the skin of the Hamo.

The Hamo has been known to contain vitamin A, calcium and iron, and hence thought to have invigorating qualities. It is so popular in the summer in Kyoto that the Gion Matsuri is sometimes referred to as the Hamo Matsuri はも祭り (Hamo festival). Hamo is prepared in several ways:

Kabayaki 蒲焼 - grilled whilst being constantly basted with sauce

Tenpura てんぷら - battered and deep fried, occasionally wrapped with Shiso しそ (perilla leaf)

Sunomono 酢の物 - vinegared

Suimono 吸い物 - boiled and served in a light delicate broth

Hamozushi はも寿し - grilled with sauce, then pressed onto sushi rice