Tsukiji Fish Market is famous throughout Japan and many parts of the world, but what makes it so fascinating?
Inside the worlds largest city that can often feel artificial and isolating, with the barrage of salarymen, who willingly trundle to and from work only to repeat this exact same process weekly for the rest of their lives, to the crowded fashion centers such as, Shibuya where everyone express themselves in their collectively individual way. “Let’s all be different together”.
Tsukiji is truly sincere.
Yes, it may appear a little run down, extremely narrow for the amount of visitors that pack its corridors, perhaps at times dirty and always chaotic, but it has the best energy of anywhere in Tokyo. I always feel at home while walking through Tsukiji, as I do in many farmer’s market all over the world. The people who work there are down to earth, not aloof or artificially overly polite, they’re just doing their job and they take pride in it.
Compared to Aoyama’s Farmer’s Market, where the vendors learned to raise their prices beyond supermarkets and give into an often heard mantra of the Japanese consumer, “high price equals high quality”.
Tsukiji offers a different approach. Great quality, fair prices, but you better move fast because you are competing with a lot of people who are food savvy and most of them are restaurant owners.
Really? 5 am!
No, unless you feel like dropping several thousands of dollars on a flash frozen tuna, I say skip it. Anytime between 7am and noon is a good time, after 10am the tour busses arrive and as you get closer to noon the lunch crowd comes, but whenever you arrive take time to walk around the narrow alleyways of Tsukiji on a perpetual hunt for great ingredients and food knowledge.
My recommendations - explore the different Katsuobushi (dried fish shavings) and nori, if your on vacation take them home with you and you’ll be reminded of your trip every time you have them in your dinner. If you live in Tokyo, try the seasonal vegetables, fresh wasabi and a lot of great salmon.
I have often say that a lot of the people working in Tokyo’s food industry are the hardest workers in Japan. Sometimes working outside from before dawn to the early morning hours of the next day, relentlessly catering to the throngs of people. When in and around Tsukiji you can see the food industry workers, each one in a hurry, as we all know in the restaurant world time is your biggest enemy. They take pride in a tradition that has helped build Tokyo to become the thriving city that it is today.
I am fortunate to live within a 10 minute walk to Tsukiji Market and often find myself wandering through this great market and coming home inspired again and again and for anyone living in or visiting Tokyo I hope that it inspires you as well.