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Food, Japan

Sea Urchin for Breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market

A visit to Tokyo is not complete until you’ve set foot at the Tusujiki Fish Market. Established in 1923 and open daily, with the exception of Sundays and holidays, the Fish Market is one of the largest of its kind, if not the largest in the country of Japan. Known for fresh seafood and produce and the intense, early morning tuna auction, the market is bustling with locals and foreigners trying to buy groceries and to grab a quick meal at one of the local vendors.

A visit to the market was on my ‘must see’ list. I was staying with my best friend “E-Buns” who lives in Tokyo and who oddly enough, isn’t a fan of seafood. She didn’t seem to keen about taking me, therefore I needed a plan B. I ended up going to the market with her husband “Groucho” and her mom “Bunny”. We were definitely not planning on getting up early to stand in line for the infamous tuna auction, which starts at 5 in the morning and only allows up to 120 people to view the auctioning. Those interested in attending need to show up exceptionally early, since the viewing is first come, first serve only. Instead, we took our time getting to the train station and traveling to the station closest to the market.

There are two parts to the fish market. There’s the outer market that is open to visitors, where vendors sell not only fresh and dried seafood, but also produce and other perishable and non-perishable goods. Small food stalls line the streets, providing either fresh sushi or sashimi, noodles, or any other simple meal for a low price. These stalls typically provide one or two items on a pre chosen menu, so there’s not a lot of variability.

pickled produce

Then there’s the inner market, where the business, wholesale, and the infamous tuna auction takes place. Because it’s a place of business, and not necessarily tourist-friendly, one has to pay attention to their surroundings on a constant basis, looking out for forklifts and handcarts that operate quickly and in high spaces. It’s best not to go in this area in large groups, with children, or if wearing nice clothes or shoes. Unless you’re planning on buying something, obviously do not touch anything. Some vendors do not even allow photographs to be taken of their items.

wholesalemarket

handcart

fish market2

After a walk-through of the inner market, Groucho, Bunny and I went through the outer market in search of breakfast. I spotted something that I wouldn’t necessarily think is appetizing, but it looked interesting enough to give it a try.

Behold, the Uni-Man Kiwami, or ‘the ultimate sea urchin bun’!

sea urchin bun sign

This is the Sea Urchin Bun. Sold for ¥860, a bun, made with flour, black in color due to bamboo charcoal, is filled to the brim with a steamed sea urchin/sea urchin paste and garnished with two or three delicate pieces of sea urchin. These specialty buns are relatively new at the Tsukiji Market, having only been sold for just a couple of years. Like I said…it was interesting. The real question is – would you try it?

buying uni trying uni

Still hungry, we looked around for something more substantial and appetizing. Most of the small restaurants had limited seating and the really good and popular places had long lines. Bunny decided to get in line for noodles and held a spot as Groucho and I hunted down more food. It was a bit overwhelming for us, and we decided to go back and wait in line. It was worth it. The shop literally only had one thing on the menu: noodles.

noodles2

making noodles

The chef made a batch of noodles, maybe ten or twelve, at a time, filling the bowls with steaming broth, while another worker sliced pieces of pork and delicately placed them atop the noodles, garnishing the bowl with mushrooms, sprouts, and sliced green onions. He then counted the number of people in line to how many bowls were available in the current batch before they were one by one handed out. We finally grabbed our bowl, a set of chopsticks, and some cold, but fresh, green tea before settling down on one of the many freestanding tables. Here’s what you get for ¥700…and it was delicious:

noodles

eating noodles

For those interested, the Namiyoke Inari Shrine is walking distance from the market. The name of the shrine literally means “protection from waves.”

woman praying man praying

If you still wish to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, make sure to go soon since it is moving to Toyosu in November of this year.

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