200th Post and an Ode to the Tsukiji Fish Market

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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.

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Daily Tsukiji: Tonkatsu Yachiyo, As the Locals Do

Sandwiched between inarguably the two most famous sushi spots in the market: Sushi Dai and Sushi Daiwa, is a teensy run down place named Yachiyo. There are two counters lining the wall and six shabby stools crammed side by side in front of the counter. The space is so narrow, only one person can walk through at a time. The interior looks as though it hasn’t been updated for decades.

Yachiyo was originally one of the go-to breakfast and lunch places for the Tsukiji workers. As tourism increased at Tsukiji, so did the customer base for this tiny spot and now, there is easily a two hour wait for their food.

I heard about this place from the people who work at the market. As keen as I am to get to know the market, I’m super interested in what and where the people of the market eat. They have been around for tens of years, why wouldn’t I ask?

Several people mentioned there is a shokudo (diner is the closest translation) that serves a three day stewed pork char siu with onsen tamago (Japanese poached eggs) only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And that’s how Yachio became one of my priority non sushi spots.

They were originally a tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet) specialist but expanded their menu and now also serve out of this world deep fried seafoods, as seasonal fish, shrimps, scallop and oysters. I’m not sure when they started the char siu and I didn’t have a chance to ask as no one talks and shovels the food down as fast as they can because there is such a long line outside.

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See? The line is almost as bad as the next door neighbor, Sushi Dai.

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I ordered the char siu egg of course. But 1. since Yachiyo started out serving deep fried foods and 2. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stand in line for another two hours again (well fine. I’m just a pig) I treated myself to a side order of Kuruma Ebi (Japanese Tiger prawns).

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And I polished off both.

When I first sat down, I got in trouble for taking photos. I couldn’t help myself. There were cauldron like pots and aged pans that look as though they’ve been used so much, anything cooked in them would come out delicious. Four people man the kitchen and I want to say it’s family run but I don’t know for sure. The head honcho is this super old, super cute chef and I just had to take a photo.

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Especially, since Yachiyo is going to move, I wanted to capture and document the essence of the kitchen, its character and all the things I can only begin to imagine they have seen from that charming cubby hole.

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After I ate two servings, the people at Yachiyo laughed at me. As I was leaving, the old man even took his chef hat off, bowed, thanked me for my patronage and said he was so happy I enjoyed my lunch. My heart basically melted.

I don’t care if i have to stand in line again. I am definitely going back until they know my name. And once a rapport is built, I hope to hear stories from them I can right now, only imagine.

God I love everything about Tsukiji.

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Yachiyo 八千代
In the inner market between Sushi Dai and Daiwa.
Sorry there’s no map. The government only printed one for the outer market. Just look for the characters.

In case you’re wondering the char siu was out of control. The pork melted and combined with the creamy egg yolk, there were unspeakable things going on in my mouth at one time.

But the deep fried shrimp – OMG. It was seriously, the best deep fried shrimp I have ever had.

Just as a side-note, I only left the tail (meaning yes, I even ate the head) and of course the people at Yachiyo noticed. As of late, the younger generation of Japanese who leave the heads are increasing — which is okay, but people who do eat the head show they have a different outlook and respect for food. Which in turn, earns respect from the people preparing and serving our foods.