Oyakodon Shio at Toritō

I cannot stress this enough. Oyakodon at Toritō in the Inner Market of Tsukiji is a Tokyo must. For 160 years, they have been distributing chicken and duck across Japan, opened two spots inside Tsukiji a decade ago and have a strong loyal following. Toritō is the only place I’ve ever eaten oyakodon shio (親子丼塩), a version where the soy sauce is held back. The seasoning is so subtle, the sweetness of the yolk, the flavor of the chicken are prominent and the melty, creamy egg with the juicy chicken over a piping hot bowl of rice is so good it always makes me want cry. Chicken soup is mandatory – it’s the best chicken soup that’ll ever meet your mouth. 🐓🥚🐣🐥 Tokyo favorite! 

…found this post in my drafts and decided to publish. RIP Tsukiji but don’t fret, Toritō is still operating.

Super Mega Early Tsukiji


More visuals from backlog posts continue as I sort through photos from my old phone… Here are the photos I took from this post in which I finally went to the tuna auction at the butt crack of dawn. I don’t even remember taking the photo up top but, it came out pretty legit.

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Beautiful tuna sashimi pieces (that again, I do not recall taking) from the breakfast sushi. My defective phone camera worked perfectly whenever it felt like it I guess because this one isn’t blurry. I’m actually shocked by how it turned out!

And in case you’re interested, more photo dumps after the jump…

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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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Tsukiji Tuna Auction

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Photo courtesy of Naveen

It’s an ungodly hour in Tokyo but the fish market is alive and buzzing. We get there at 3:30am but barely make the cut into the second group to view the tuna auction. We walk through the door and given vests. The first group is bright green. We, the second group, put on blue ones. The room looks like a pretty big storage room cleaned out and turned into a waiting room. Hard concrete floors, bright halogen lights and white walls makes the room more reminiscent of a looney bin. I am the only Japanese and almost feel like a refugee waiting for Japanese immigration to give me permission to enter the country. It is not a pleasant experience. 

The holding room.

Apparently, I texted a friend this photo who kindly sent it back to me. Sort of hilarious this is the only photo I have after my big, sad ordeal. We’ve been sitting around this room for hours and finally the first group goes out into the auction room. We stand around for a few more minutes and it’s our turn.

Being the only Japanese is a bit of a blessing and a curse. The workers are shocked a Japanese national is actually participating in the auction viewing but more so, I learn things I perhaps would rather not know. There are the things I learned.

Heads up: this may take the magic out of the experience if you are planning to go so I’m putting it behind a jump.

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Tsukiji Fail

I have a colossal problem.

Today I had a lunch at my scheduled place. I just… couldn’t enjoy my meal. I didn’t even take photos. Shutoku has basically ruined me; I can’t stop day dreaming about my experience there.

Every piece I eat, I’m comparing Aoki Chef’s knife skills to others. I wonder how he would garnish that particular piece – or if he would even garnish. Would he just sprinkle salt? Brush lightly with soy sauce? Or maybe top it with grated daikon radish. I stare down at the cut fish on top of rice and imagine how he would present it. My taste buds are craving the perfect balance of akazu vinegar rice with the freshest, highest quality fish. And I wonder what Aoki Chef would say, as he served the piece to me. He has set the bar and Shutoku is now hands down, my favorite place in The Market thus far.

How am I ever going to eat through the other places in Tsukiji?

I get that this is a good (spoiled?) problem to have. But I need to figure out a way to reset this meal so I quit complaining and give accolades to other establishments.

After all, every place is different.
Off to googling I go…

Daily Tsukiji: $200 Meal for $50

Shame on me for failing to immediately post these photos but I’m still processing the stunning omakase from Tuesday. (Today is Friday by the way.)

Every now and again, I have an unforgettable meal I can’t stop thinking about for days on end. My lunch at Shutoku 秀徳 was definitely one of them. I’m terribly concerned my photos and words won’t do this place justice…

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Such a sexy work station.

 

The citrus pictures is sudachi. Not pictured is kabosu. These two citruses are mainly used outside of Tokyo and in Tokyo when yuzu isn’t in season. Osaka, uses sudachi year round. Only a few sprinkles from the grated rinds releases an unbelievable, delicate citrus aroma.

Now on to the show – get ready for some major sushi porn.

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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.

Nerdy Stuff

This was too nerdy to post on Facebook and Instagram so I’m just going to leave it here.

The other day at the market, I stumbled onto a store that specializes in shell fish. Lots of shrimp varieties — some with long arms, others with long antennas, there were scallops and oysters but the thing that caught my eye were the crabs.

There were six different grades of crabs, ranging from USD$15 all the way up to over USD$100. They weren’t in water but still alive! I know, I know. I get how Tsukiji is known to have the freshest fish but the crabs were flown in from Hokkaido. Nemuro, Hokkaido to be exact.

Nemuro to Tokyo is an hour and 55 minute plane ride but there is only one flight per day in the afternoon. Since there are three flights from Nemuro to Sapporo (a main city in Hokkaido) maybe they flew the crabs to Sapporo first then to Tokyo? Sapporo to Tokyo is about a four hour plane ride away. And it was around 10 am at the market… working backwards these crabs were still alive and kicking being out of the ocean for over 24 hours. What in the world? How is this possible?? Did the crab people transport the crabs in ocean water??? Doesn’t the water splash all over the plane???? How much is the shipping????? There were so many questions firing through my brain at once.

Then I noticed there were some weird crumbles that covered the crab so I asked the guy: what is that on top of those guys?

Him: aljkfalskdjflaskdj (some Japanese word I had never heard before)
Me: I’m sorry, one more time?
Him: oga-alkdjf;aljkdf;lakdjflas (I only caught the first part)
Me: I’m so sorry, can you tell me one last time? *whips out phone*
Him: Oga-kuzu
Me: *punches it into my phone, shows him…* are these the correct characters?
Him: *laughs* yes (he probably thought I was some freak)

I walked away from the stand to get out of people’s ways and googled. The word was ogakuzu 大鋸屑. Ogakuzu is sawdust.

Sawdust??? 0_0

Turns out, sawdust has been used for centuries in Japan to maintain freshness when transporting mushrooms (enoki, nameko, shiitake, etc.) and also shrimp and crab. The reason being, a pile of sawdust sustains temperatures so the crustaceans and fungi arrive in their most optimal form.

That information enough is mind-blowing (I love learning new things) but who, when and how did someone even think of storing mushrooms, shrimp and crab in a mound of sawdust of all things?

These inane tid-bits I’m picking up every day are so fascinating. I love the market so much.

I’m planning to visit that stand a few more times before asking the store keepers how these crabs are transported from Nemuro, Hokkaido to Tokyo.

What? Inquiring minds want to know.

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*Update*
Today I learned there are cargo flights and trucks shuttling seafood from Hokkaido to Tokyo. With a truck, it takes a day. An airplane, the seafood arrives within a day.

Crabs apparently don’t need water to survive. (Some of them even dig holes in the sand and live there. Who knew?) They only require a certain temperature. So the crabs in the sawdust over a bed of ice is enough to keep them alive for several days.

Daily Tsukiji: Seared Goodness

Wow, one of the most memorable places so far for sure.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the seared Kama toro I had at Kuybey (as opposed to the raw one at Sushi Ichiban on Saturday) so I asked the people at Tsukiji for their recommendations of a place that serves seared sushi. General consensus was Kagura Sushi.

Kagura Sushi was indeed delicious. For their rice shari they use Yamagata rice with housemade akazu 赤酢 (five year aged vinegar of a darker finish, usually used for sushi). And for the searing aburi 炙り they don’t torch but sear on a net. Searing on a net ensures there is no bitterness to the finish of the fish.

The results? Incredible.

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Nodoguro sea bass. A firm white fish that is so delicate, serving it seared elevates its tastes.

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Kinmedai sea bream (?) a popular white fish, kinmedai frequently appears in sushi and also traditional Japanese cooking. I love it when it’s baked in rice, stewed, wait but the sushi form was also excellent. It’s one of my favorites.

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Tachiuo. The transalation is a bit strange. It says scabbard fish, not sure what that means. The fish resembles mackerel sanma and the Japanese characters 太刀魚 means Great Sword Fish. This guy is a hikarimono shiny fish. Hikarimono are known to have more prominent tastes, a bit more naturally fatty and (good) oily. It blended so well with the rice I didn’t want it to end.

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Kuromutsu. Another one where the translation makes zero sense. I don’t think this one is widely available abroad too. This one, too, fantastic. I don’t remember the exact tastes but more so the texture and scent — it was a perfect piece.

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Kinki. Again, strange English name. I think I’ve had it in the US before. It was as tasty as beautiful.

For the last piece, I asked the itamae-san chef to serve me his choice not seared. Out came Japanese winter amberjack kan buri 寒ブリ toro. The character is ‘cold buri’. Holy cow, this one was incredible. I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo… Oops. It was just like toro, luxuriously soft with a subtle ocean.

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Then finished off with an elegant white miso soup that was out of this world.

They also have tons of grilled fish items (lots of collar!) and specials of the days. I can’t wait to go back again, it was really that good.

The pink blob I blurred out in the background is Himalayan salt. I ate all the pieces with no soy sauce — the rice and fish were flavorful on their own. The itamae-san noticed I wasn’t using soy sauce right away and lightly flavored the pieces for me.

Tuskiji Kagura Sushi
C4 and E5 on the Tsukiji map. (I went to the one at C4)

I read, write and speak Japanese so I was able to customize my order. They don’t have an English menu but they have photos, so you can point. This place is a definitely in my top three at Tsukiji thus far.