Sayonara, unajuu

One of the strangest things for me about weight loss surgery has been the change in my reactions to food. Some foods I used to adore are now too bland for me; some foods I didn’t really care much about have gained extreme importance. Of course, there are foods I’m supposed to be avoiding, but even when I cheat and let myself have a small bite, I often discover that I don’t like it enough to warrant the cheating.

One example of how things have changed: I am very picky about meat products now. Most ground beef dishes, like burgers and meatloaf, are too dry for me. I tend to find them flavorless and unpleasant. I have also grown tired of eggs, no matter how they’re cooked; I’ll eat them if they’re what’s available and I know I need the protein, but they no longer give me any satisfaction. (Part of me wonders if I might find farm fresh eggs more palatable. I’ll have to give it a try sometime.) Ham doesn’t thrill me, but it gets the job done…but I love a good pork chop. And of course, steak is marvelous. I eat them rarer than I used to, because that way they’re nice and juicy and soft. We’ve started going to Ted’s here in Atlanta, and I’m addicted to bison steak. Fish also makes me happy. I love a good grilled or broiled salmon fillet, and I’d eat sashimi every day if I could–but it has to be good sashimi. If it’s possible, I’m even pickier about sashimi now than I was before.

I still enjoy cottage cheese, but I have become even pickier about brands. There was once a time when I could eat a non-favorite brand and be okay with it, but now, unless it’s Walmart brand, I can’t stand the stuff. I don’t know what it is about how Walmart makes their cottage cheese versus the way the other companies make theirs, but something is different to my now overly sensitive palate.

Then there’s sweets. I always had a sweet tooth before. Cookies, pastries, brownies, cakes, chocolate candy, anything chocolate really…I’d gobble it all up without heeding quality or quantity. Now, of course, I’m almost completely off sugar, except in cases when it’s unavoidable. There are times when I let myself have some sugary snack–usually when traveling, because I don’t keep that sort of thing in the house–but when I do, it never meets my expectations. It always feels pointless. The taste doesn’t do anything for me. I can vividly remember how eating sweets used to make me feel, but now, after having weight loss surgery, eating them will never make me feel that way again. It is such a strange feeling…almost a feeling of loss, until I remember that this change is what has allowed me to drop 100 pounds.

That brings me to unagi.

In 2001, I went to Japan for the first time. It was an amazing trip that changed my life. While I was there, I had unagidon, barbecued eel over a bowl of rice, for the first time. I promptly dubbed it my favorite dish in the world and sought it out thereafter as much as possible. Towards the end of my homestay in Yatsushiro, my host mother, noting how much I adored unagidon, made me a huge bowl with a double helping. I ate it all.

Since then I’ve found unagidon and its sister dish unagijuu (also called unadon and unajuu, respectively) in various restaurants in the US, including my former favorite Augusta Japanese restaurant (which unfortunately seems to have gone downhill in recent years). Here’s some delicious unadon I had there in 2008, complete with onions.

You're supposed to eat unadon on Eel Day to build stamina for the summer heat.

I hadn’t had unadon or unajuu since the surgery, until the other night at Haru Ichiban in Duluth. I was trying to go for something with plenty of protein, since it’s easy to mess up and maximize carbs in a Japanese restaurant. I didn’t even think about sugar. Here’s the unajuu:

My last box of unajuu.
My last box of unajuu.

Look at that sauce. Unlike the unadon above, this unajuu is saturated. Apart from sopping it all up with a napkin (which I didn’t think of until just now), there really was no way to avoid the sauce. And, unfortunately for me, that sauce is sweet.

I mentioned that when I eat sweets like candy or cookies they don’t really do much for me. Because of this, I usually don’t continue eating them. On the rare occasions that I do, though, I get this really nasty feeling in my chest, between my neck and my stomach. It’s this weird gurgling feeling, highly unpleasant. And it only happens when I eat sugar in high concentration.

Let me tell you, that unajuu made me miserable after just a few bites.

I stopped, ordered some salmon sashimi to get my protein, and spent the rest of the evening trying not to throw up. I was successful, yay! But that put the nail in the coffin of my once passionate affair with unajuu…and perhaps unadon as well, if it’s made with that same concentration of sauce.

Goodbye, unajuu. I loved you once, and somewhere inside I love you still, but it’s no longer meant to be.