Right now, I'm living in the USA, studying at the University of Pennsylvania, but Tokyo is my home, and a part of it that I adore is the famous Tsukiji Wholesale Market. If you visit Tokyo, you have to give it a visit. Here's my account from the first time I checked out the famous pre-dawn tuna auctions.
Take a Trip to Tokyo's Fabulous Tsukiji Market
4:30am: It was strange to see the normally crowded and hectic streets of Tokyo so empty as I rode through the city at four in the morning, but the bright and colorful lights still flashed, illuminating the midnight sky.
My aunt was taking me to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan where the best sushi chefs bid for the highest quality maguro, or tuna fish, almost every day bright and early in the morning. The sun crept up as the car got closer to the market, and it spread its beautiful orange and pink hues across the horizon.
The sound of bustling workmen and moving carts surrounded me, tourists lined the wooden walls of the popular sushi restaurants, and the pungent scent of salt water and seafood wafted through the air—we had arrived at the most famous fish market in the world.It's all about the sushi and boy is Tsukiji sushi good
5am: My aunt’s friend, a fisherman and sushi store owner, handed us bright orange pinnies and led us through a back door to the cold, stone yard where the auction was about to begin. My heart thumped with excitement. People line up for hours just to see the auction from afar, but I was lucky enough to be right in the center of the chaotic, rhythmic flow of the world-renowned Tsukiji tuna auction.
Market traders dressed in blue suits and boots stood on small stools with their pen and paper in hand, calling out the details of each fish in an almost melodic call. The large tuna fish were lying on their sides, mouths gaping, eyes large and staring blankly up at the high ceilings. Old pros and younger buyers were closely examining the color and fat distribution of the fishes' deep red flesh. They could tell how it would taste with one look and one touch. The perfect fish is crucial for delicious nigiri and sashimi.
Slicing the valuable tuna is no job for beginners and takes a dedicated team
6:45am: After watching the fresh tuna auction and then the frozen tuna auction, we decided to go taste the delicious fresh fish we saw being fought over just minutes before. We squeezed behind a counter in a room only a little bigger than my tiny US dorm room, and asked the chef what he recommends for this time of year. I ordered some scallop, hamachi, sour plum and perilla leaf rolls, charred freshwater eel, sea urchin, some silver-skinned fish, smoother white-fleshed fish, sweet egg, and of course the prized red tuna. Our morning in Tsukiji was complete.
Jennifer Etsuko Higa is currently a Sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Graphic Design and pursuing minors in Cognitive Science and Consumer Psychology. She grew up in Tokyo, within the international community, until she graduated high school and headed to the United States. She loves to cook, eat, travel, adventure, and create and loves being able to share her culture with the world. www.jennybeanoriginal.com A version of this article first appeared on the Penn Appetit website.
Looking for some fun experiences to have in the Tsukiji area? Why don't you try a cooking class - including certified tofu-making courses - from Tsukiji Cooking. Learn more.