200th post on this little blog of mine, thank you to those reading and especially those who leave a comment or two. It’s nice to know there are actually people out there interested in Japan and Japanese food. Updating this blog has been so much fun and I love sharing things about my culture, country, people and especially foods! Also, I’m such a food nerd and on occassion include things unrelated to Japan, so again, thank you to those who continuously read and check this site.
On this (self-proclaimed) special occasion, I am going to share something that I’ve been hesitating to share for quite some time; since May, to be precise. A huge part of the struggle is because I don’t want to ruin the magic for those who are visiting or planning to visit Tokyo and… Tsukiji.
Early this year, I started a pet project: Mission Daily Tsukiji in which I was determined to get to know the market inside-out before they move. What initiated this was a random solo visit after several extremely sour experiences. Going to the market alone felt like I was visiting some place completely different and fell head over heels in love.
After a week of research (googling, reading tons of blogs but in the end, I bought four Tsukiji guides in Japanese) gained enough confidence in my command of the market. Tsukiji is pretty overwhelming and once I’m standing inside of the market, everything I thought I knew or remember flies out of my head and I wander around lost, not knowing where to go or what to eat. So I built a plan.
Several months of daily visits to the stores and markets, eating at almost all the sushi places and non-sushi places including random food stands, getting to know the people of the market and asking them where their favorite places are and eating at those places, I got to know the market extremely well and realized something quickly.
Tsukiji isn’t about the sushi, it’s about the shopping and eating non-sushi foods. Ask locals and they will tell you the same thing.
Once I thought about it, it made sense. Since 1935, Tsukiji has been selling fish and vegetables, restaurant supplies and basically all things related to food and restaurants all over Japan. In Tokyo and even in the States, a lot of Japanese restaurants and especially sushi restaurants are closed on Sundays. It is said the Sunday dark day is because Tsukiji Market is closed. The Japanese are known to shop for ingredients daily and since Tsukiji is closed, so is almost every place that serves high end meals.
Tsukiji is the workplace of thousands of fish mongers, auctioneers, fishermen, purveyors, fish market chefs, shop keepers and craftsmen. The workers need to be fed. And long before the market opened to the public, there have been non-sushi restaurants in the market, serving Japanese comfort foods with the freshest ingredients from the market to the workers.
The real secret of Tsukiji and how locals roll, is eating the non-sushi foods.
I’ve eaten at almost all of them and Yachiyo is my absolute favorite. The chef/owner Ishizuka-san, took over the tiny eatery from his father, and has been mastering the art of deep frying for nearly 50 years. Sandwiched between the mega popular Sushi Dai and Daiwa, they serve light and crunchy, flavorful deep fried seafoods. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays they have four day braised char-siu, a pork loin stewed until it is so tender it melts in your mouth. The char-siu is served with a poached egg, so fresh, the yolk cascades a gleam of golden-orange hue over the rice and pork. It is a magnificent dish. I wrote about Yachiyo here.
Aside from Yachiyo, there are hordes of donburi specialties ranging from chicken (yakitori don) to eel, seared fish and chirashi. Mini snacks on sticks are also delightful. From tamagoyaki to seared tuna and catches of the day’s skewered and grilled. There are scallops and crab, abalone and whatever fresh crustacean and sea life from the market grilled right on the shells. While amateurs queue for hours on end for sushi, locals are happily enjoying loads of delicacies that are only available at The Market at that price point, selections, quality and tastes.
I still visit The Market once every few weeks. But I’ve eaten almost everything and concluded the best of Tsukiji is looking beyond sushi.
Since the inner market is relocating in November of 2016, if you have the patience then Sushi Daiwa is recommended only for the experience. But do as the locals do for an insider’s experience at Tsukiji and venture outside the confinements of sushi. Try the foods the workers and locals have eaten for decades.
And with that, marks my 200th blog post and the long awaited end to Mission Daily Tsukiji. Stay tuned for my non-sushi recommendations!