Muslims have Mecca, lovers of Trance have the lovely town of Goa, surfers and single, middle-aged women looking for a spiritual awakening have Bali For lovers of sushi the most sacred pilgrimage of all is to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.
Tsukiji is not only the largest fish market in the world but is also one of the largest food markets of any kind, anywhere. With nearly 3000 metric tons of fish passing through the market every single day, it’s a fair bet that most seafood getting out to people in Asia and other parts of the world began it’s life outside of the water at Tsukiji.
The night before our journey to the market I ate a quick meal in Shibuya and headed back to the hotel early to rest up. The action takes place early…fresh fish begins to unload at 3 AM and the bidding for the choice Tuna takes place around 5:20 AM. I wanted to be fresh…and hungry (more on that later). You can get to the market via subway (on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line) but I’d recommend you get a group and take a cab. Not because you need to necessarily, but because if you go on a Saturday morning you’ll see lots of Japanese people just going home from night of drinking…stumbling through the streets, friends helping each other along, or even sleeping in their business suits on on a doorway. Some of them will even be heading to the fish market for a final meal and drink before heading home it is fairly common to make the fish market the final stop on a big night out in Tokyo.
I had trouble sleeping the night before…like a kid at Christmas I wanted the morning to come as quickly as possible. It wasn’t the market that excited me, it was my first full-on sushi meal of the Tokyo trip… something that had been far too delayed for my tastes. You see the market isn’t all that engaging past a certain point for outsiders. People are quickly going about their day receiving, cleaning, and selling fish. And unless you really like to hang out in cold, damp rooms with rushing packing carts flying by inches from running you over, it’s best to plan a short trip to the market.
Outside of the market you’ll find plenty of stores selling sushi knives, Japanese cooking gear, tourist t-shirts, etc. Inside you’ll find row after row of fish stalls selling everything from Tuna to Octopus to crazy creatures of the sea I would have never thought to eat.
Pushing in even deeper to the market you’ll find the Tuna auction house. I was hoping to hear guys calling out 1000-do-i-get-1000 Yen-to the guy in the back-1200-do i get 1200 or something like southern auction houses but with Japanese language. It wasn’t quite like that, but there was lots of barking. Unfortunately they pack all the tourists into a small area and everyone’s vying for shots though all are too far away to really see or hear anything good.
Do ensure you get there early for the action. The day we visited I think they started clearing folks out around 6:30 AM. Afterwards you’re free to continue roaming the aisles of fish. But a smarter person will run to get in line for some food. Since this is the freshest fish in the world, it stands to reason that when you eat the sushi here it’s probably gonna be the freshest you can have short of catching a fish in the open ocean and cutting it up on the spot. It’s incredible, the fish literally travels 50 meters to the restaurant. I’ve never eaten sushi before lunchtime, but a 6AM treat like this is not to be missed.
We put our faith in the Luxe guide and either everyone else was a fan of the guide or the place really was good because there was already a snaking queue three lines of people deep in front of the door to Daiwa Sushi.
Patiently we waited in the rain, eyes droopy from little sleep. After about 45 minutes to an hour our patience was rewarded as we were ushered into the tiny sushi bar. I took my seat in the corner. My back pressed into the wall and my face was probably no more than 2 ft from the chef. Ultra fancy, super-modern sushi restaurant this isn’t…. but you’re here for the fish and man does it shine.
I wasn’t listening to the chef when he asked us for orders as I was looking around for menus, but apparently we agreed to the set everyone in the restaurant was ordering. It’s a beginner’s guide to sushi set. I don’t consider myself a beginner, but I was hungry and looking for anything I could get my hands on.
The dishes served were:
- miso with clams
- Japanese omelet & sea urchin
- shrimp tuna maki roll, fatty tuna, and shrimp sashimi
- yellow tail & eel
and a few other things I wolfed down before realizing I should have taken a picture
Freshness of every dish was unbelievable. Tastes like I’d never experienced before. The Sea Urchin completely redeemed itself from our horrible experience with it in Kyoto (more on that soon).
The Tuna. Oh man, I don’t have the words to describe. I once heard a rumor that the Japanese sort all the green tea they produce and set aside the good stuff for local consumption and then export the lower grade teas to other countries. I feel like they do this with the tuna. There simply isn’t Tuna of this quality in America (I’ve eaten in NYC and Texas, but never in San Fran so maybe there?).
I relished every piece in the set. Thankfully Joanna isn’t big on sushi (but was doing her best to develop a taste and ate quite a bit) so I was able to have seconds of some of the dishes. After the set was over I ordered a few more pieces of the select fatty tuna for good measure.
I left tired, but extremely satisfied. Had the market not been closed the next Sunday I would have probably returned the next morning for another meal. I won’t go back for to see the auction, but I will definitely return for the sushi. If you’re a lover of food and particularly sushi, this is a trip you MUST make. There’s really nothing like it.
The Tuna Auction Area is off-limits
(except from 5:00AM until 6:15AM)
Tsukiji Market Part6 Bldg. 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo