When we arrived, what we saw was more than one thousand wholesalers who had started working like beavers long ago, auctioneers who had already started bid calling with voices that foreshadow their stature, and chefs with flashlights in their hands who were on the hunt for the best ingredients with inquisitive looks they threw at tuna gills….
A witness to history, the past of the fish market can be traced back to the Edo period. Following the 1923 earthquake that had destroyed it, the market was moved to its current location with a good-looking temple built at its entrance.
Every morning, the fishmongers make their prayers wishing for the continuation of their success before they take their places behind counters. The area looks like a giant beehive built on a 223.000 m2 space with all the polystyrene materials and cars that don’t stop buzzing. If anyone who is not familiar with Tsukiji were left in the middle of this scene, it would be hardly possible to find a way out for that person without assistance!
It is possible to find up to 500 seafood varieties including fishes, different types of moss, octopi, scallops, sea-urchins, crustaceans and many other types that most people might not have even heard about before. The fish market is visited every day by more than 40.000 people for shopping.
On my last visit to Tsukiji, known as the world’s biggest fish market, I was accompanied by someone from the culinary sector: Chef Hiro Sato. Thanks to him, I had the chance to enter customers-only sections and witness some of the auctions.
Tuna auctions, which have been regularly organized –reportedly- for twenty generations, took place in two different sections: frozen and fresh. Auctioneers completed their bid callings that included self-styled chants, shouts, dances and momentary crescendos in such a speed that I watched this curious show with questions in my head about how they were able to communicate this fast!
In order to gauge freshness, they slit open fishtails. The sellers who examined their meat for color, fat ratio and homogeneity, shelled out all their money if they liked it. The record, for now, belongs to the tuna that was sold for $1.76 million dollars in 2013.
During the tour, I snacked on oysters carefully removing the meat from the shells, basically an ingredient used in the preparation of “tuna tartare hand roll.” It was my first time having oysters for breakfast at 5 am!
A visit to Tsukiji should be in the bucket lists of everyone who admire Japanese cuisine like I do! Because of a delay in plans, the relocation of the fish market has been postponed to the end of 2018. I advise you to hurry up on your plans to visit it so that you could get your share of the nostalgic feeling that Tsukiji has to offer!
Bon appétit and enjoy the taste of life….
5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan