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.

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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.

Daily Tsukiji: Unreal Uni

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On Friday, February 13th I had unreal uni during my daily Tsukiji trip. As always I went to say my daily hello to Saga-san at the uni bar. He told me he put a special uni aside for me to try (!!!)

Pictured left, this uni is from the Rausu region of Hokkaido. Rausu is on the East Northern tip along the Nemuro Strait. The topography is optimal for sea life and Rausu konbu kelp is one of the three highest grade kelp used for Japanese cuisine. Uni eats konbu and the various grades of uni is dependent on the kind of konbu it feeds on.

Words can not describe how amazing this uni was. I never had anything like it. There was a firmness but it melted into my mouth like smooth, thick, rich liquified chocolate. Just a touch sweet, with the slightest hint of sea I could smell through my nose. The sensations were out of this world.

I’m still thinking about it, that’s how much I loved it. The uni on the right is from the Tomakomai region. Delicious but didn’t even compare to the Rausu.

Both were eaten with freshly ground Himalayan salt. Himalayan salt by the way, looks incredible displayed on beautiful sushi counters.

Thanks to Saga-san I am turning into a reluctant uni expert. I don’t think I can eat ‘regular’ uni anymore. What a spoiled problem to have…

Mission: Daily Tsukiji

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Breakfast of Champions Day Two

 

Tsukiji Fish Market has been operating in the same place since 1935 but its history extends beyond that. Long ago in ancient Japan, the head of Edo (modern day Tokyo) Tokugawa Ieyasu, invited fishermen and merchants from around Japan the opportunity to sell their goods to his castle. The year was between 1556 – 1584.

Merchants flocked to Edo and three market places popped up in the vicinity. Tsukiji Fish Market was one of the three. Even after the era of Ieyasu and the rulers after him, the merchants continued buying and selling in these marketplaces for centuries. In 1923 after political unrest and a natural disaster, Tsukiji was legally determined as the sole market place of the three. Construction was completed in 1935 and the Tsukiji Market Place we see today was born.

In 2016 the government of Japan is closing down Tsukiji and relocating the market. When the move happens, it is speculated over 10% of the Tsukiji merchants will not be joining.

This kind of bums me out.

Tsukiji, is a very special place. Everyone seems to get it right away. Not me. It took four visits to be allured then fell head over heels in love.

After spending an inspiring and magical day at the market yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about its history, the stories of the merchants, their goods and products. And the generosity! I still can’t get over how everyone was so willing to share centuries of expertise with a random grown-up pestering them with questions like a five year old. There is so much magic jam packed in one place; it’s so unreal.

I woke up and immediately went back again today for breakfast. I’m now determined to get to know Tsukiji inside out before they have to move. What better way to achieve that, than eating my way through.

Today is Day Two. Sundays are quiet at the market — almost everything is closed. I chose to eat at a stand. The gigantic prawns are $7 for a stick. The crab, about $14 dollars and the scallops are around $6 bucks.

Can’t wait to go back on Thursday (I’ll be in Kyoto for the next three days).
Actually. I want to move into the market.

Let the countdown to November 2016 begin!

Sidenote: I spent a day thinking about what my issue with Tsukiji was and now see things clearly. I loathed Tsukiji for three reasons. 1. because I didn’t want to let down friends who were visiting when they asked a Japanese speaker to accompany them. I went to Tsukiji out of obligation which wouldn’t be too much of a problem if… 2. I was a morning person. And a morning person, I am not. (Although lately I am so excited to start my days, I’m wide awake by 5 am.) and 3. my visits were based only on the inner market (where the auction happens) and by the time we would wander to the outer market (where I’ve been trolling the past few days) I’m worn out and not really happy to be there.

Tsukiji Fish Market

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It’s dark. And cold. But it’s okay, because you are charged by an energy of knowing you are about to witness something special. As you walk towards the warehouses miniature tractors stacked with styrofoam crates and boxes zoom around. Tens of men and women in oversized rubber boots with matching poofy black jackets are rushing in all directions yelling:

Doke, doke! Jyama, jyama, jyama!!

If you don’t speak the language the shouting from people known to the world as polite and quiet, could easily be misinterpreted as some sort of war cry. After all, these men and women get up at the crack of dawn for fish.

Some sell the fish in a freezing cold warehouse to the crowds pushing and shoving their ways to the front. Some may transport the heaps of fish with the miniature tractors. Others may be cooking the fish at one of the many sushi restaurants with tourists milling about. Or others man the retail storefronts.

Whatever their roles, these people aren’t at Tsukiji Market to Instagram or blog about being at Tsukiji Market. These men and women wake up everyday at ungodly hours for fish — their crafts, and their trades. Of course a motivating ritualistic chant would make sense, as the same words echo from different directions: doke, doke! Jyama, jyama, jyama!!

Well. Sorry to break it to you, but these men and women aren’t collectively shouting some ancient ritualistic chant. They are yelling because they are annoyed. Doke means move. Jyama is outta my way.

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