Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun, but also the land of the rising fishermen. There are many places in Japan that showcase the amazing gastronomical culture, eating habits and culinary techniques of Japan. Tsukiji Fish Port Market in Tokyo, among Nishiki Market in Kyoto and Dotonbori in Osaka are key places to experience this.
A short walk away from Ginza, Tsukiji Fish Market is an incredible way to dive into Japan's food culture. As the largest seafood market in the world, there is no unfamiliarity with the masses of people or fish that pass through this district. Fresh fish is imported to Tsukiji and exported throughout the rest of Japan. The market is noisy and rustic, and equal parts charming. It is in short, a sensory playground.
Whether you're seeing tuna being sliced finely with a sharp blade, feeling smooth ceramic rice bowls, smelling smokey grilled octopus, hearing stall owners yelling out "いらっしゃいませ (Irasshaimase)!" as you weave through crowds of people, and whether you are tasting freshly fried tempura, almost all senses are engaged.
Tsukiji Market is split into two markets, the inner and the outer market. The inner market is full of hustle and bustle where serious wholesalers and owners of restaurants bide their time and bid on the freshest and highest quality fish available. They take their time to taste the meat, For a glimpse into the Tuna Auctions, you can only organise these through tourists groups or by getting there during the early hours of the morning.
You cannot participate in the auction but you are permitted to take photographs. Be aware to be on your best behaviour and don't seek to obstruct business as usual, as it is very much an important aspect of business for many high-end restaurants and sellers. Only an approximate 120 tourists are admitted per day with stakeouts beginning at 3am on occasion.
That aside, to me the outer market is where the action is. You'll often find restaurants tucked away in between stalls selling fresh produce or pots and pans. Sounds and smells fill the fresh air as restaurant owners advertise the catch of the day. Keep an eye out for the stools and high counter tops, shaded by a simple tarp. They aren't places to be overlooked and often specialise in particular foods.
We did not limit ourselves to eating at only a sushi restaurant at the market. I instantly gravitated toward these strawberry mochi and proceeded to have my best tastebud sensation that morning. One piece was Y300 but were a reasonable size. Flavours ranged from custard cream, mango, matcha, strawberry and red bean. The mochi was soft, the flavours subtle but tasty and the fresh strawberries were incredibly plump and juicy. I found myself constantly dusting mochi rice powder from my lips. You will find a couple of stalls like this scattered throughout the market.
We ate at Hokkushin Bussan, which specialises in exporting fish roe. Jason and I ordered kiwami-don, with a serving of medium fatty tuna, tuna, sea urchin, salmon roe, shrimp, chopped fatty tuna, scallop, salmon, squid, white fish and crab flakes. This dish was Y2280 (Approximately $27.00). The chirashi was the best way to sample the freshest and highest quality raw fish. We requested an extra serving of fatty tuna which had an amazing consistency and taste.
It was recently announced that Tsukji Market was moving to Toyosu in November 2016, approximately twenty minutes away by bus. I would recommend visiting the market while it is in its current location, if not to experience the atmosphere, admire the densely packed stalls, watch people weaving through lines to grab a seat at the sushi bar, then you must visit for the simple pleasure of eating high quality food.
Popular restaurants at Tsukiji Fish Market:
- Sushi Dai
- Sushi Zanmai
- Tsukiji Kaggura
- Sushi Zanmai-Honten
- Tsukiji Sushisei Honten
- Aozora Sandaime Hafu
Have a browse of the official Tsukiji Japanese Restaurant guide here for more food options, although in my opinion it's best to have a wander as you'll easily find some amazing food!