Daily Tsukiji: Maguro Breakdown

I am still in awe from what I witnessed today.

Every Saturday around 10:30 or so, Sushi Ichiban has two maguro tuna men come over from the inner market (the auction area) to break down a whole tuna. Then you can eat the freshly cut apart tuna at the bar.

Today’s maguro is kokusan born and bred in Japan from the Nagasaki region. It was smaller around 360 pounds and chock full of natural fats. Everything happened so fast I didn’t have a chance to write down all the information but here are some bits from what I remember:

– tuna has a fin on top that is usually hidden. It comes out when they need to turn right or left. That’s what the man is holding up in the photo above.

– unlike other fish, a tuna doesn’t have gills. They breathe through the water that streams into their mouths when they swim. A tuna needs to constantly be on the move and their mouths, collar, etc are constantly working to keep them alive. This is why the collar meat is so delicious (because of the fats and muscle from working to breathe).

– the fins are cut first, then tail. A tuna’s quality is determined by the marbling of the tail meat. The fattier the tuna, the better. Tuna tail also has marrow. I had no idea.

– the head comes next. There is a section on the top of the head (where a human brain is) that is filled with fatty tuna meat. This is called Kama toro. From an entire tuna there are only 10 servings of Kama toro. It’s usually only available at high end sushi bars. Apparently one piece costs around $30-40 US dollars in Ginza.

At Sushi Ichiban one piece is 750 yen – approximately $7 US dollars. I ordered two. It was too oily and fatty for me. I’ve actually had Kama toro before at Kyubey except at Kyubey, they serve it seared. I still remember because it was almost the last piece and blew my mind. Seared, it practically melts in your mouth like a fatty piece of marbled meat.

There were parts of the explanations I missed since I ran into the sushi bar to try the Kama toro before it sold out. Since this ritual happens every Saturday, maybe I’ll go back next week to try the other pieces.

If you’re planning a visit to Tsukiji this experience is definitely recommended. There’s nothing like watching an enormous tuna be broken down right in front of you, then sitting down to eat that very fish. Don’t worry. There aren’t blood and guts and goo.

By the way, Saturdays at Tsukiji are super busy. On top of tourists, Japanese are visiting too. The place I originally wanted to eat at had a three hour wait – and it’s not even a sushi place!

Tsukiji Sushi Ichiban 築地すし一番
Located at D4 on the free Tsukiji map they give you at the info booth.
Sushi Ichiban is also open 24 hours.
Tuna breakdown happens every Saturday at 10:30 or 11am ish.

They have a sister restaurant here (copy and paste this into Google maps)↓
At this location, they do the tuna breakdown on Sundays between 10:30-11am.

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