Fish is big business in Japan, and the Tsukiji Fish Market on Tokyo’s lower east side is where it all happens. Everyone from chefs of 5 star sushi restaurants to homemakers visit this market daily to find the freshest fish around.
The activity starts early at the fish market. Before the sun rises, fishermen have already delivered their catch of the day to the vendors who lay it out on solid sheets of ice for customers to inspect.
You definitely want to visit the market early in the day if you hope to get a glimpse of the action at Japan’s most famous fish market.
We arrive just past noon.
That’s because we’ve come to Tsukiji Fish Market with a different mission– we are here for lunch.
As expected, some stalls are already closing up shop for the day as we walk through the market’s narrow alleys looking for a place to eat.
The fish have either been sold or packed away for the day. All that remain are the freshly-washed wooden pallets glistening in the midday sun.
Still, the day is not yet over for many at the market. At every turn there is more fresh fish to whet our appetite. If we were not hungry upon arrival at Tsukiji Fish Market, we certainly are now.
To be honest, we have come to the market without knowing whether there are even any restaurants here, but we don’t really mind. At worst, we could pick out our own fish from one of the market’s many vendors. From there, it would just be a matter of hunting down a bowl of rice and we’d be set.
Thankfully, we don’t have resort to such extreme measures to get our fix of fresh fish. The outer edge of the market is lined with small restaurants serving dishes prepared with fresh fish delivered by the fishmongers mere steps away.
We step into a small don (rice bowl) shop that consists of a short counter with stools and a couple tables shaded by a tarp. It’s nothing grand to look at, but growing up in Hawaii, you learn that the “hole in the walls” usually have the best food.
We sit at the counter and order a Magurozuke don (seasoned ahi tuna) and a Negitoro don (minced ahi tuna seasoned with green onions).
Upon receiving our orders, the chef behind the counter leaps into action. With the deft hands of an expert, he begins assembling our orders.
As a dish, don seems simple enough– put rice in a bowl, cover with tasty raw fish– but from the chef’s practiced motions, it is immediately apparent that don is much more than that for him.
This is his art. With the bowl as his canvas, the chef uses seasoned rice, raw ahi tuna, nori (roasted seaweed), egg, and petals of pink pickled ginger to create his masterpiece.
Needless to say, lunch is amazing. The raw fish is as fresh as you could possibly hope for and the flavors are spot on.
In Japan, it is a sign of respect to eat everything that is set before you, down to the last grain of rice. We have no difficulty showing our respect to the chef.
We may have missed the early morning activity at Tsukiji Fish Market, but we leave with full bellies and a smile on our face.
The only regret is that we don’t have enough room for dessert at the tiny Maguroyaki shop we encounter on our way out of the market.
Next time Tsukiji, next time.
5 Days in Tokyo
- Otsuka — Tucked between Tokyo’s hot spots is a place where golden hour never ends.
- A Different View of Harajuku — We discover that serenity is surprisingly easy to find in Harajuku.
- Lost in Ebisu — A random stop in Tokyo turns out to be more than we bargained for.
- Old Town Akihabara — Pass under the bridge to a different side of Tokyo’s futuristic district.
- Ginza to Tsukiji — A search for fresh fish leads to a surprising discovery about Tokyo’s Ginza district.
- Lunch at Tsukiji Fish Market — This is where you go to get the freshest fish in Tokyo.
- The Solitary Soldier — Sunset at Japan’s Imperial Palace.
- Finding Peace in Hibiya Park — A small pocket of peace amidst Tokyo’s never-ending activity.
- Cats of Hibiya Park — Hanging out with some furry friends.
- Saturday in Ikebukuro — Ikebukuro. Weekend. It’s over.
- Okachimachi Crunchy — Walking down Tokyo’s multifaceted shopping boulevard.
- Hidden Yanaka — Frozen in time.