Japan: Tsukiji Fish Market

The one thing we knew we absolutely had to do in Tokyo was visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.  We committed ourselves to waking up before the sun to make it happen.  We were definitely interested in seeing the tuna auction, but once we found out that waiting around for it would mean getting in line late at Sushi Dai (resulting in possibly a seven hour wait), we knew that sacrifices had to be made for the sake of the ultimate sushi breakfast.

We left our apartment a bit later than we originally wanted, at 4:30am instead of 3:30.  (Okay, quite a bit later.)  It was too early to take the subway, so we walked around until we found a major intersection where we could flag down a taxi.  Our taxi driver must have had dreams of being Speed Racer because that was one of the craziest taxi rides I've ever been on.  Red light?  Oh, well.  Speed limit?  What speed limit?

3250 yen ($32.50) and a flashing of my life before my eyes later, we arrived at Tsukiji Fish Market around 5:00am:

Which, as expected, was waaaaaaaaay too late for Sushi Dai.  The wait was already around the corner and estimated to be over three hours:

Maybe if we'd been younger, we would have waited.  But with age comes less patience for such shenanigans.  After weighing the costs and benefits of waiting, we came to the conclusion that it just wasn't worth it.  So we switched over to Daiwa Sushi, which had a much more reasonable wait of 45 minutes:

At least it was 45 minutes when we first got in line.  It was much longer by the time we left. 

There are two rooms in Daiwa, each with its own sushi counter and sushi chefs:

You can order sushi a la carte, but most people just go with the omakase set menu (3780 yen or around $37.80 per person).  The menu changes depending on what is freshest that day. 

Our sushi chef was a young man who spoke enough English to crack some jokes with us.  He placed each sushi in front of us with the most loving care.

We started out with toro or fatty tuna:

While we were swooning over the utter loveliness of the toro, we were brought bowls of miso soup:

Then came the shrimp and the squid:

And a quick break from raw seafood for a grilled shrimp head:

Then a couple of rolls:

Before we were graced with tamago (egg) and uni (sea urchin):

Seriously, uni just tastes different in Japan.  I can't describe it beyond saying that it has none of the salty fishiness that we find in uni in the States.

Next came I believe sea bream and another fatty tuna:

And finally, anago (saltwater eel):

Since I didn't have a chance to actually try Sushi Dai, I can't tell you whether Daiwa is as good or better.  However, I can say that it's pretty damn amazing in its own right and the wait is much, much, much more reasonable.  (Ain't nobody got time to get in line two hours before a restaurant opens at 5:00am.  Hell naw.)  I would not hesitate to go back to Daiwa again.

After Daiwa, we decided to look around the rest of the market.  The actual fish and seafood section of the market wasn't open to the public yet (it opens at 9:00am), but we were able to look around the outdoor part:

We did still see some pretty impressive seafood there:

We almost walked past this little stall:

But then we saw this out of the corner of our eye:

And then there was no budging us until we got ourselves an uni bun (860 yen or $8.60):

Bun blackened by bamboo charcoal with sea urchin cream in the center, topped with fresh uni:

What is this madness?!

Since we tried the Kansai-style dashimaki tamago, we also wanted to try the Tokyo counterpart.  Which is what led us to Yama Chou:

At Yama Chou, you can get tamagoyaki on a stick for 100 yen or $1:

Unlike the more savory dashimaki tamago from the Kansai region, the tamagoyaki is on the sweeter side, though just as soft and fluffy. 

Before we left Tsukiji Fish Market, CK bought herself a set of bowls and a legit Japanese all-purpose knife.  I saw a lot of other little restaurants that I would've loved to try, but my body betrayed me.  We'd hoped that walking around would help us digest enough to eat more, but alas, our stomachs didn't cooperate. 

Sigh.  Next time.

Tsukiji Fish Market is a definite must stop if you're going to be in Tokyo.  And relax, you'll have a great experience even if you don't make it there in time for the tuna auction or for Sushi Dai. 

Just make sure to bring cash.  Lots of it.  And make sure to check the calendar on the Tsukiji Fish Market website to see which days it is open (it's closed Sundays, holidays, and some Wednesdays).  I can't imagine anything worse than trekking all the way out to the market only to find it closed.

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