Last night, I did more research into the famous Tsukiji Market tuna auction. I knew that one had to wake up early to queue for tickets and see the fish being auctioned off before the sun even rises. It’s partly why I decided to book a hostel within 20 minutes’ walking distance to the market. However, it seems that in recent years, the competition for tickets has gotten way too kiasu (‘scared to lose’, overly competitive), with people going as early as 2am to get the tickets, then waiting for 2 hours in a room before they can even see the auction, which is basically Japanese buyers simply going round and quietly placing their bids. Yes, it’s a ‘slice of life’ viewing of an integral part of Japanese domestic commerce, but at the cost of an important night’s rest. In the end, I decided to skip the tuna auction to stay in bed for a solid 7-8 hours, but still made plans to head to Tsukiji Market to enjoy the outer market, eat a sushi breakfast, and have a general look-see walkthrough at the inner fishmongering area.
Tsukiji Market is a major tourist draw, so by 9am when I arrived, it was already very crowded. However, being a weekday crowd, it was still what I would consider manageable. I resisted the urge to eat and buy every food being offered on display, even though I hadn’t had anything to eat since I woke up. I finally succumbed to an extremely fresh and large raw oyster in the shell that was sold at 250 yen, slightly below the usual prices elsewhere. But this was just a snack. The real breakfast was going to be some sushi!
I passed by a place called Sushizanmai — then passed another place called by the same name again, which cemented my suspicion that it was a franchise. I wanted a non-franchised, non-kaiten (conveyor belt) restaurant for my sushi experience, so I walked on. As expected, the renowned sushi restaurants of Tsukiji, Sushi Daiwa and Sushi Dai, had a veritable horde queuing patiently outside of each one (rumoured ETA to get in: 2-3 hours). Walking a bit further along the street, I saw a modest establishment next door called Shou Sushi, which had zero people in my queue, to my surprise; there was virtually no spillover from the other two famous restaurants. I had read that you will generally get fresh, good sushi in any restaurant in Tsukiji Market, so I was willing to consider this place. I peered in the tinted glass doors and saw three chefs busily making sushi along a bar in the narrow room. It looked like the type of experience I was looking for. Their twelve course sushi omakase (‘courses up to the chef’) was 4200 yen, at a price I was willing to pay. So I stepped in, and got a seat immediately in one of the two free seats.
I was sat near the entrance. On my left were the local Japanese clientele, and on my right were a family of American tourists; two parents and their two children. I asked for the twelve-course sushi omakase and waited. I was served soba tea and watched the chefs at work. I also looked at the American family in mild amusement as the parents, clearly purveyors of fine Japanese cuisine, tried to get their young children to appreciate the sushi, in vain. Raw fish was still a culinary culture shock for the two young kids, and all the boy was willing to eat was the tamago (cooked egg) sushi.
In front of me, the chef sliced and assembled the sushi with utmost dexterity. He served me each piece one by one, telling me what fish it was in English for my benefit. This gave me time to slowly savour and appreciate every serving. The chef was also friendly, and was mildly curious about my provenance, since I could pass for Japanese but clearly couldn’t speak their language. I answered that I was from Singapore, and we had a few short exchanges of conversation. His English fluency made it easy for a non-Japanese speaker to enjoy the sushi and the company of the chef who made it.
Eleven sushi and a finishing tamago later, I left Shou Sushi, wholly satisfied. There was a short queue of two people who had been waiting, who now eagerly had their turn. A Chinese family stood outside, pondering if they should go in. I assured them in Chinese that yes, it was good. Meanwhile, the queues outside Sushi Dai continued to snake around the corners, poor souls with their empty stomachs still craving for sushi.
This wasn’t the end of my dining for the day at the market, of course. It was only the beginning, with hot tamago on a stick (100 yen), chocolate mochi (250 yen), and black sesame ice-cream (280 yen).
The morning was barely over, and I had already eaten enough to cover breakfast and lunch! What’s a contented man to do with the rest of the day? Check out the seasonal cherry blossoms, of course.
Japan 2018 Log:
22 March: Arriving in Tokyo
23 March: Morning at Tsukiji Market
More posts to come!