Sitting at the edge of the river, a mere stones throw away from Ginza, Tokyo’s central business district, is Tsukiji fish market. Tsukiji is at the heart of all Tokyo cuisine, attracting everyone from the cook at home to Michelin star sushi chefs who frequent the market to get their hands on the catch of the day. A trip to Tsukiji should be at the top of your list if you plan on visiting the capital, it is bustling with so much life, both human and aquatic, you will see everything from live poison blowfish (fugu) to tuna the size of motorcycles and everything in between. If it comes from the sea, you’ll find it at Tsukiji.
The most sought after fish at Tsukiji is the Bluefin Tuna, these are sold in a warehouse that people other than the wholesalers rarely gain access to, it is here that the fish come straight off the boats having been flash frozen at sea, laid out looking like frost covered torpedoes. With the increasing scarcity of bluefin tuna due to overfishing, the price for a single fish has dramatically shot up, with each fish costing thousands of dollars, the most expensive bluefin tuna to be auctioned off at Tsukiji was sold in 2013 for a price of 1.8 million dollars. Once the wholesalers have made their purchase they collect their fish, and either take it to their stall in Tsukiji or distribute it to restaurants .
Namiyoke Inari Jinja Shrine (see above) is a Shinto shrine built in 1659 to protect workers from rough seas during the reclamation period which created the Tsukiji area. Workers at Tsukiji use these small electric vehicles known as turret trucks to transport produce around the market, they whizz by really quickly and you have to be on your toes at all times so as not to get knocked over by one, we actually got told by one of the drivers to jump on the back which we did, he flew around the tight streets and alleyways with my friend and I gripping on to one another as there wasn’t anything else to hold on to.
As well as fish, there are also a number of other products sold at Tsukiji, one of which are fresh wasabi rhizomes, something which I have never seen outside of Japan. Wasabi is a type of horseradish which usually grows at the side of fresh water rivers. Fresh wasabi is a condiment sometimes used in sushi, it has a fiery burn but is also very aromatic, the real stuff tastes very different to the ‘wasabi’ which you might find in the west which is usually just horseradish and green food colouring. The reason wasabi is so hard to find outside of Japan is that fresh wasabi will only retain its pungency for a couple of days and even when you come to enjoy your sushi, the wasabi should be grated fresh as it will start to lose that fragrant pungency after around 20-30 minutes.
As previously mentioned, real wasabi is notoriously hard to find in the west and now due to its scarcity it is often hard to find in its native home of Japan. If you want a place where you can get some of Tokyo’s best sushi and some of the real deal wasabi to go with it, then look no further than Tsukiji. The market is home to a few sushi places where you will get some of the freshest fish in the world, two of which are Sushi Dai and Sushi Daiwa which are known to be two of Tokyo’s best places to eat sushi, we opted for Sushi Dai.
No matter how early you get there you will have to wait in line, you may not be the kind of person who likes to eat raw fish for breakfast but if you want to eat here you are going to have to become that person very fast.
Once you get into Sushi Dai you will be given the option of what you would like to eat which is a set menu of around three options, it is something like a 5 piece, and 8 piece and a 11 piece. If I remember correctly I opted for the 11 piece. The sushi that you get in Sushi Dai is none of this dressed up westernised sushi, it is what sushi was originally intended to be, which is simple and very fresh. Most of what we got was nigiri sushi which for those who don’t know is like the image above, a small finger of perfectly cooked sushi rice with a piece of fish on top, sometimes with a touch of wasabi and soy sauce. The picture above is maguro, a piece of 24 hour marinated lean tuna. Some people prefer toro and otoro (the two fattiest types of tuna belly) but this lean tuna really did it for me, it was the best piece of sushi I have ever tasted.
The above image is live surf clam…I had never tried anything like this in my life, but it was amazing. When I say live what I mean is that it had been prepared so quickly that it still moved a little.
This sushi in the image above was made from a fish I had never even heard of before but it was caught fresh and the chefs at Sushi Dai only get in the best fish that day, this is why the menu will constantly change. It was called knife fish and it was delicious, very lean with a small amount of oiliness to it.
This is a very cheap type of fish called gizzard shad, it is part of the herring family and I found that it tasted surprisingly similar to mackerel. I had not often experienced sushi where the skin was left on the fish, and at first it put me off but after a while I began to really appreciate it, it shows you what you are eating and it allows you to gauge how fresh it is.
Known in Japan as Ebi, this is sweet shrimp which has been gently cooked and placed on top of a finger of rice. It has almost no fish taste, but tastes slightly sweet, it went very nice with a piece of pickled ginger and was one of my favourite pieces of sushi. We finished the set with 4 maki rolls and if I’m honest I absolutely despise maki rolls because I hate nori seaweed but hey that’s just my, most people who like sushi love them.
Above is one of my favourite types of fish, red snapper, again with the skin left on. It was the first time I’d tried the fish raw and it was sublime, probably the firmest of all the pieces we tried but a fantastic mild flavour.
The meal ended with some hot miso and spring onion soup and a hot cup of matcha tea, which finished off the experience quite nicely. You’ll probably be thinking, ah but how much does that cost? Not that much at all actually, as I think 11 pieces cost around £20 per person which is a pretty good price to eat at one of Japan’s best sushi restaurants.
After filling up in Sushi Dai, you can head back into the market to explore, you will see things you never thought existed sat on beds of ice and swimming around tanks, you’ll even see stalls dedicated to selling whale meat, something you would be hard pushed to find anywhere else in the world other than Norway or Denmark.
Visiting Tsukiji isn’t just like visiting any old market around the world, it immerses you into Japanese culture and allows you to experience their cuisine first hand. a visit to Tsukiji as a pilgrimage to the heart of Japanese food.
This concludes this segment of my series ‘Nippon over to Japan’ stay tuned for more posts, hope you’ve enjoyed this one and any others that you might have read. Thanks for following and reading. Any questions or suggestions throw them my way.
Thanks for reading 🙂