What is a holiday if you don’t allow yourself to enjoy a little bit of eating? Japan is heaven for Japanese food lovers like me, so you have to eat and enjoy yourself while you’re there. What I always tell myself is this: eat whatever you want, beware of portion size, and know the consequences. As long as you are willing to admit the consequences from too much eating, then go ahead and enjoy yourself. I did, and one of my favorite finds during this trip was at the Tsukiji Fish Market.
As any food lover, I wanted to bare witness to the fish auctions that take place at the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world: Tsukiji Fish Market. I wanted to see tuna, salmon, sea urchins, eel and all sorts of food being auctioned away, but this time I have to admit I couldn’t wake up. It was too early. It would require me waking up at around 4am in the morning and getting myself out to the fish market by around 6am to make the first come first serve list. (It’s limited to only 140 visitors per day) I will, however, go back. I have yet to see Japan dressed in pink with the famous cherry blossoms or robed in autumn’s finest colours of red and gold. How beautiful it must be.
Dreaming aside, I did manage to get myself some absolutely divine food at the Tsukiji market. If you don’t make it to the auctions, you can always go there for lunch. Just make sure you don’t go too late. Most restaurants open from 6.30 hours and close at around 13.30 hours. The most value for money ones also have long lines, but the wait is well worth it.
Just outside the Tsukijishijō Station towards the right of the fish market there is an area surrounded by little shop houses. I passed shops selling razor-sharp knives, cooking utensils but most importantly there were many eating houses to choose from. Don’t expect spacious ones with proper seating and service, these are the traditional japanese eating houses with a long kitchen and equally long counter for which the customers are to be seated. The one I sat at was so crammed, that if you pulled out your seat to get more leg space, other customers would not be able to walk behind you to their seat. I dared not move an inch.
There were quite a number of eating houses and take-out places, but I wanted to have sashimi, raw fish and they all looked so good. I decided to go for the one with a long line of locals. There were two equally good looking ones next to each other so I just decided to choose the one specializing in Toro (fatty tuna) and sea urchin (uni). I’ve had them before, but in miniscule portions since they are so expensive. At this restaurant, they were served in larged portions over rice with accompanying soup and side dish. Everything for only 1,800 yen or only roughly $23. Now that’s a good deal. If you don’t want toro or sea urchin, they also serve alaskan crab and shrimp, so you can have whatever you desire.
Now the only thing with this place is you have to eat fast. You pre-order your dish while waiting in line. Once you get your seat, you immediately get served your food and within a few minutes you are to finish it. There is no time limit, but you start feeling the pressure when the person sitting besides you arrives later, finishes before you and leaves in such a rush that you wonder if they have a train to catch. Everyone rushes out so those standing by the door watching you eat can come in to have their turn.
People come to this place for no-nonsense food. There’s no service, no ambiance, just plain good food. And the great thing is that the locals go there. The couple behind us told us they come often. Its no wonder. I thoroughly enjoyed it too and wouldn’t mind standing in line again. The fish was so fresh, it just literally swam down my throat. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
Oh, I’m told the place is called “Nagaya” and it’s next to a little shop selling breakfast of toast and coffee on the right. Also, for an extra 400 yen you can have more toro 🙂
I enjoyed every meal I had, but then I love Japanese food. I could eat it everyday and not get bored at all. I love their raw fish, their udon, ramen, fried foods and all so delicate japanese snacks. I love the way they present their food and I admire the amount of detail they put into every bite. It’s funny how I can grow to love japanese food so much, especially when I am told that in my younger days the thought of eating raw fish just made me squirm. It was all just too “exotic” for me back then.