Tokyo, Day 1

Fish-Composite1

Tsukiji Market. We woke up bright and early and got ourselves over to the Tsukiji Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world (and one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind). Hectic. Mayhem. Chaos. All of those words pretty much define the market, especially in the deer-in-the-headlights eyes of newcomers like ourselves.

We saw just about every type of underwater ingredient imaginable, plus monster-sized tunas and an array of other awe-inducing seafood. Not content with your average tour, we were lucky enough to be able to go into the back room where the 5:30 AM tuna live auction goes down (see photo above, right). And now, a montage from around the market:

 

 

Our Lesson of the Day

Besides the fact that this is a must-see, our number one tip would be that this is an Oprah-style no phone zone (for serious). Etsuko warned us, in no uncertain terms, about the perils of fish-bearing fork lifts, scooters and other vehicles, the fact that they will truly run you over if you’re distractedly composing that really important tweet. She warned us, and yet, more than once we felt the wind of a passing fork lift that just missed one of us.

 

Sushi for breakfast?

Yes, please. If you’re going to eat sushi, eating it in and around Tsukiji is about as fresh as you can get, short of sushi rolled on a boat. Etsuko led us to the outer market area, where there are lines of small shops and restaurants specializing in sushi, udon, ramen, etc. We ended up at a hole-in-the-wall around the corner called Sakae Sushi (left), tucked behind a screen that slid open for new guests (translation: we would have never found this place without Etsuko). We noticed a chef eating at the sushi bar (good sign), then camped out until he finished and claimed the three seats at the bar.

Sushi-Sakae

We ordered Sashimi Omakase, Nigiri Omakase, and Donburi; we definitely weren’t expecting what we ended up with–everything was incredible. After a couple of glasses of sake, Chao starting talking to the Chef, Yamamoto, who’d worked in Singapore and Hong Kong before coming back to Tokyo. In no time, they were deep in conversation over specific techniques, Yamamoto gesturing expressively while Chao attempted to record everything in a small notebook. Just a few of what we tried (and loved):

Asakusa, Kappabashi, and Vintage Sake Bottles

After our unexpectedly epic breakfast, we were off to Asakusa, a district known for its long street market, bordered on either end by impressive temples. We walked a bit, found a really cool vintage sake bottle store, became disappointed that the store was closed… and then made our way into the temple to make a wish in the fountain. For the sake of the storyline, we’re going to say we wished for the sake bottle store to be open…

Our final stop of the tour was Kappabashi, Tokyo’s restaurant supply district. Kind of goes hand-in-hand with Tsukiji, if you ask us (well, Chao especially). (Actually, doing a little research now, we found this quote from Rick Bayless: “Kappabashi was mecca for me… the perfect peephole through which to view the wonderfully evocative details of Tokyo’s everyday life.” Word, Bayless, word.)

After perusing the shops, filled with every kind of cookware, knives, and so on, would you guess what we found in Kappabashi? Another antique sake bottle shop! An open one! Okay, it’s probably not that much of a coincidence, but that didn’t hold Mike back from cleaning the guy out. The bottles were packaged and shipped back to Chicago before we even got back to the hotel, thanks to Mike’s surprisingly stealth shopping skills. By that time, it was 5:00 PM and we were losing consciousness. And when a man needs a nap, he needs a nap.

Fresh From the Tank

Post-nap, refreshed and ready for food, we headed to Sakanatei, an awesome izakaya that specializes in sake direct from the sake maker. From there, we stopped at Sasano Izakaya, shown on the right. The term “fresh sushi” has been pretty much redefined at Sasano Izakaya, where the chef retrieves your dinner from its tank (right), kills it, and serves it to you, all in one fluid motion.

In Chao’s words, “The best piece of sashimi I’ve ever had. Period.”

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