In Japan, you can get such nice and fresh vegetables, including cucumbers and eggplants, much more easily than in the U.S.. There are several kinds of Japanese eggplants; some can be even eaten raw (“water eggplant” or “Mizunasu” 水茄子). I like “Kamonasu” 賀茂茄子, famous for being used in Kyoto cuisines. You can not get these easily in the U.S.. The kind of eggplants we can get here are limited to mostly Western varieties. Occasionally, what they call a “Japanese” eggplant is available (a light purple and small elongated kind) but I do not recall seeing similar eggplants in Japan. I tend to use small Italian eggplant and Zebra eggplant for my Japanese style cooking but, sometimes, it does not work out. Simply grilled Japanese eggplant, “yakinasu” 焼き茄子 is wonderful if the eggplant is good. I found a small (baby) Italian eggplant which looked very good but bought only one, because the last time I tried to make this from Italian eggplants, it was pretty bad. I am sure, because I only got one this time, it turned out pretty good and I wish I had bought more.
Before grilling, I just prick the skin of the eggplant all over with the tines of a fork or a tip of a bamboo skewer to prevent from the eggplant from exploding (This happened once in our Weber grill. We heard a big “bong” noise. A small puff of ash came out the bottom vents of the grill. Upon investigation we found the meat of the eggplant spread all over the inside of the lid. Nothing was left on the grill except for few fragments of the charred skin.) After 15 minutes or so, the eggplant is thoroughly cooked (turn several times during the cooking) and soft as seen below. Make sure the eggplant is completely cooked. Using chopsticks or tongs, peel off the skin holding the cap while it is hot. Using a small knife or a bamboo skewer, cut the eggplant along the long axis (you can plant the skewer in the meat near the cap and then grab the cap and pull the skewer through). repeat this a few times to make long strands of eggplant. Cut at the cap but I keep the cap for presentation. I garnish with dried bonito flakes and chiffonade of perilla. As a seasoning, I can use just soy sauce but I happened to make my dipping sauce for other dishes we had (dashi 2 parts, mirin 1 part and soy sauce 2 parts) so I used my dipping sauce.
Eggplant is almost done along side potatoes which are being grilled for “Jagabata” or potato with butter.