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NAHA, Okinawa — Eel is one of those foods that always makes me wonder who on earth first decided it was fit for human consumption. Whoever that adventurous eater may have been, he or she must have known that slimy, long, live fish could become a nicely prepared dish offering a mouthwatering, soft texture.

The eel enjoyed in Japan is the family of Japanese eel with the scientific name Anguilla Japonica. It’s not known exactly when it joined the human foods list, but in Japan’s oldest existing anthology of poetry, "Manyoshu," compiled in the 7th century, there is a poem about eels, the vitamin-A-rich table fare.

Since then, eels have continued to be one of the most popular foods in Japan, evolving into a dish that is pleasing both to the eye and palate. On Okinawa, Hiko Honten, a Japanese restaurant in Omoromachi district in Naha, is considered by many to be one of the best eateries on the island to enjoy the traditional dish of eel, called "unagi" in Japanese.

The unagi offered at Hiko are grown in Kin, near Camp Hansen, in an organic environment, says chef Sanekatsu Yogi, who is in charge of the unagi dishes.

From several variations of unagi on the menu, we chose "hitsumabushi" a Nagoya way of enjoying barbecued unagi. It’s a sauce-dipped, grilled unagi served over rice. The crispy surface of the rectangular-shaped, deliciously browned meat melted in our mouths. After a few blissful bites, we added thinly sliced green onions and fine dried seaweed.

We also added wasabi to the mix and poured hot tea over it all.

Of the three versions, I liked the first — the simplest way — the best. The dipping sauce was the key to the exquisite barbecued eel. Yogi said it was a secret recipe the restaurant developed when it opened 28 years ago.

To see previous After Hours reviews, go to: stripes.com/afterhours

Hiko Honten, Omoromachi, Naha

Hours: Lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with dinner from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., everyday

Prices: Lunch is 880 yen to 1,480 yen (about $9 to $15); Dinner Unagi set meal is 1,760 yen (about $18) to 3,800 yen (about $38); Sushi set is 1,550 yen to 3,000 yen (about $15 to $30)

Menu: Hiko specializes in grilled eel, sushi and other Japanese dishes, and while the menu is in only Japanese, it includes photos.

Location: Leave Camp Foster and drive Highway 58 south. After passing Camp Kinser on your right, proceed on the highway until you reach Uenoya intersection. Turn left and continue to drive until you reach San-A Main Place shopping mall. Turn to the left at the end of the building and proceed on the road, turning right at the third traffic signal. Hiko is on your left.

Web site:http://r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/f061400

Phone: 098-941-5057

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