This is the second part of a two-part post on the Tsukiji Fish Market. We’ll cover the rest of the bustling fish market.
Warning: This post has graphic content. Those who are squeamish should not continue reading.
The rest of the experience was no less exciting than the tuna auction. Outside that auction house lay the intermediate wholesalers, restaurants, and a marketplace.
Then, along came the intermediate wholesalers. Restaurateurs and chefs scanned through the options, trolleys whizzed dangerously about, and the market quickly cleared in the early morning sun.
Everyone has a narrow role in this seemingly chaotic performance. Those whole tuna are carved up with a bench saw before being sold off in bite-sized pieces. While buyers make purchases, trolleys fly by to transport fish and empty boxes. Tourists lurch back and forth as impatient traders run by and the tower carts avoid a constant stream of near-collisions.
Such a mix of color and action is spectacular, with seafood as common as shrimp to exotic delicacies like puffer fish all on the menu. It is admittedly gory at times, with still-live fish being killed and chopped up in front of us. Then, as early as 9 am, the bulk of the fish is sold. The traders clean up, preparing for the next day. Cooks and chefs disappear into the street, bounties in hand.
The result is fish, on the table fresh whenever (and wherever) you want it. The day was still young for us, so we settled on a sushi breakfast. This is a must-do for anyone visiting Tsukuji – seriously. The line is long (40 minutes for us, 5 hours in other places), but the experience is like nothing else.
The fish we had was probably less than an hour old, making it far fresher than anything you can imagine. Our expert chef kept a steady stream of sushi on our plate, giving us a taste of everything one can get from a tuna to his take on the classics.
It was a culinary epiphany, and the experience was awe-inspiring. The toro maguro (fatty tuna) and medium-fat maguro melted in our mouths like butter. The squid, ordinarily rubbery, tasted crisp and creamy as we bit into it. And the eel? Barely a hint of the heavy sweet sauce often found, flavored instead with a light taste of eel and a rough texture.
We also got some ones you don’t see everyday, like amberjack (firmer than medium fat tuna). The uni, not one for the faint of heart, was springy, slightly sweet, and mildly salty. Totally a favorite. Then there was grilled shrimp head, crunchy and bitter with the taste of a fish barbecue.
The seafood was superb, seasoned so perfectly we needn’t add soy sauce or wasabi. After the set course ended, Liz and I sat in bliss for only a moment before peppering the chef with request after request until our lust for sushi was sated. We left the restaurant totally happy, basking in the sensation of our delicious breakfast and not wanting to eat until long afterward lest we lose that feeling.