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Tokyo’s Tsukiji: Sashimi Shangri-La

Sushi lovers in the hunt for the essential experience would do well to visit to Tsujiki market, a real-world sashimi Shangri-la. Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. Licensed wholesale dealers (approximately 900 of them) operate small stalls overflowing with fish as fresh as can be. Tsukiji handles over 2000 metric tons of seafood per day, and business is over before most folks finish their morning coffee (or, if you’re in Japan, more likely tea).  Below is a photo of the typical dealings going on in one of Tsukiji’s stalls.

We visited Tsukiji twice during our 2010 to Tokyo (part of our larger trip throughout Asia).  We made out first visit in the course of our ordinary sightseeing.  The second visit, the folloing morning, was our last day in Tokyo, a few hours before our flight back to Los Angeles and had more the feel of a junkie’s fix.  Each time, we sped through Tokyo’s underground metro from Sinsuku on the Toei Oedo line during the morning the rush hour. Below, Laura poses in front of the Tsukijishijo Station mural.

There are two sections at Tsukiji market: the Jonai shijo (inside market) and the Jogai shijo (outside market). The Jonai shijo (below) is the wholealers section.  The action starts early morning, around 5:30 am, and is concluded by around 9:00 am.

Every day more than 3,000 whole tuna arrive from foreign and domestic waters. A single tuna can sell for more than $10,000. After buying, the nakaoroshi will dismantle the huge carcasses, some weighing as much as 900 pounds, selling various cuts to buyers from restaurants, supermarkets and other retailers.  Below, I’m hanging out with some tuna.

Toro! Toro! Toro!

Similar to how there are many ways to skin a cat, in Tsukiji there appear to be many ways to cut a tuna.  The photos below feature a few of them.

Tsukiji offers much more than tuna and other fish. The left-hand photo below shows a stall heaving with crab, shrimp and heaps of octopus, or tako. Octopus is always poached for sushi, yielding subtle, sweet aromas.  In the right-hand photo below, Laura appraises some uni, or sea urchin – one of her favorite delicacies.  Uni uses the gonads of the sea urchin. Uni has a strong ocean scent, and it is very creamy and rich.  In the background beyond Laura is one of the many lift trucks that ubiquitously weave the stalls around Tsukiji.

Jogai shijo (below) is Tsukiji’s ”outer market.” Jogai shijo is a mixture of wholesale and retail shops, including many restaurants — especially sushi restaurants.

Laura enjoys a breakfast chirashi of uni, ikura and tuna from one of the popular stands tucked inside Jogai shijo’s alleyways (below).

Tsukiji may not be for everyone.  If the thought of tens of thousands of people unloading and packing, cleaning and gutting, selling and buying tons of fish at six in the morning makes your stomach turn, you’re better off sleeping in.   But for sushi lovers, it’s a delicious pilgrimage.

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