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Thursday, December 15, 2011

[Japan] Lunch @ Tsukiji Market

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Tsukiji Market
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan

The Tsukiji Market is one of Tokyo's popular tourist spot, as it is the largest wholesale food market in the world. It has a long history dating back to 1935 (if you are interested you can read it here), but essentially its a wholesale market where seafood and other supplies are auctioned off to authorized buyers (like restaurants), and immediate wholesalers (vendors at the market). Some of the restaurants that purchase the goods are situated right inside the market, serving fish purchased that very same day. Sashimi heaven! But more on that later.

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The part of the market filled with immediate wholesaler vendors

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Lots of seafood!

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Not only seafood, they also sell other goods like fruits, household products, and even tools and knives.

The Tsukiji market is also has an auction that occurs in the market, which is home to the most popular Tuna auction. Due to safety concerns, only 120 people (first-come first-serve) are allowed to be in the observation area for the tuna auction, and registration for this starts at 5 a.m. Unfortunately I was unable to peel myself away from bed to make it for this, but I have heard it's quite an experience seeing huge whole tunas being hauled around and auctioned off.

Oh well, I didn't get to see the tuna, but at least I got to eat it at the restaurants in the market after.

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Map of Tsukiji Market.

You can see from this map the immediate wholesale part of the market is structured by rows. Some of the rows are vendors, and some are restaurants. A nice man at a pharmacy pointed out some of the more popular restaurants, and what we should order at each one.

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And it was pretty apparent that some restaurants were more popular than others. That one at the very end had a massive line up, while these other four in front of it had none!

A lot of travel sites advise you to go to the ones with the line ups because those are the good ones with higher turnover, but a local told us that the line ups are usually tourists that flock to the restaurants with pictures on the outside. He suggested we look for fisherman in the black rubber boots, and follow suit as to which restaurant they go into.

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We ended up choosing this one which had a moderate line up, and lots of pictures to satisfy our touristy needs. (On the market map it's the fourth restaurant down on the 8th row)

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This right here is the entire restaurant. sits about 8 people. There are lots of pictures on the wall behind the chefs of menu items and prices if you feel you want to order something a la cart on top of what you already ordered at the door.

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After you order one of the few staff behind the counter passes you a miso soup, a pickled radish appetizer, and a tea. The miso soup was standard, and I didn't care too much about the pickled radish. Was saltier than I would've liked.

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Tuna Sashimi (1800 Yen or $24 CAD)

Since the Tsukiji Market has a tuna auction every day, we knew we had to try the tuna. The tuna bowl came with a bed of rice and three thick and largely cut pieces of tuna. These pieces were bigger than any sashimi I've had in Canada, including out west in British Columbia where the salmon is cut pretty generously. Portions aside, this was so so so fresh. I don't think it gets any fresher than than straight from the fishermen! It was melt-in-your-mouth good. Like if "melt-in-your-mouth" had a definition, this would be it. It was so buttery, and ridiculously good, possibly better than any salmon (which is my absolute FAVOURITE sashimi) I've had in Toronto. 

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Sushi Rice

Rob couldn't stop raving about the rice. He really likes the short grained sushi rice, but I don't think I'm skilled enough to taste the difference between long and short grained rice. While the rice was cooked  to a perfect texture, I think all sushi rice just tastes like sugar and vinegar to me.

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Mixed Sashimi (1650 Yen or $22 CAD)
Instead of ordering just 2 bowls of tuna, we opted for the variety with this mixed chirachi bowl. Both Rob and I are big fans of Salmon, but we could assertively say that the tuna tasted better by a mile. Make that 2 miles. Didn't taste bad, just shadowed in comparison to how good the tuna was. The uni (yellow blob in the centre) and fish roe were also quite good. Both very flavourful, but none of the fishiness.

Overall a really good experience! From a tourist standpoint, highly recommended. The market starts early (and also closes early at around noon), so it prompts you to wake up early, and then have the rest of the day to do other things. From a foodie perspective, highly highly recommended if you like raw fish. Again, I really don't think it gets any fresher than this. Well worth waking up early for!