Each day, 2,000,000 kilos of seafood, and 20 million dollars are exchanged in the 700+ shops of the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. It is a massive endeavor of buyers and sellers, shops and tourists, and it all seems to run in a perfect chaotic routine.
Not only is the Tsukiji Fish Market the biggest in Japan, it is the number one fish market in the whole world. Experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of this market is something you need to do while in Tokyo.
You might think, “Seen one fish market, seen them all!” and opt to skip it. That would be a mistake. A big mistake.
Nothing compares to the Tsukiji fish market, the largest in the world, and to miss the bustle of this enterprise would be a travesty. Doing it on your own would be tricky too, while it’s technically free to tourists, weaving your way through the hundreds of stalls would be too chaotic and overwhelming. This is where Tokyo FooDrink comes in with their Tsukiji Fish Market Tour.
We set off to explore the market early one morning, where we met Fumito and Yu at the Tsukiji Temple, the perfect meeting place.
The market, Fumito described, is broken up into two sections – the inner market and the outer market. The inner market (closed to the public before 9AM) is the wholesale market where fish auctions take place and is not so tourist friendly. The outer market is a mixture of wholesale and retail shops and caters more favorably to tourists.
Busy Inner Market
The interior of the market is a working warehouse, full of machines, people and a controlled chaos. The inner market is not intended for tourists to stand around wide-eyed, and we needed to stay alert at all times. Fumito and Yu did a good job of keeping us out of the way of motor carts whizzing by and didn’t let us get too relaxed about being in such a fast paced environment.
The largest draw and biggest seller of the inner market is tuna, and the sights and sounds clearly displayed that. We listened to the grinding of machines slicing frozen tuna into sellable chunks. We gazed at the thin slices of belly meat and tail sections on display for customers to determine the high quality of the tuna. We saw the massive, heavy bluefin tuna’s move around the warehouse floor on special tuna carts. Yes, tuna is by far the biggest draw of this market. We learned that 70% of the shops sell tuna; 1,000 frozen and 200-300 fresh tuna are sold per day.
Beyond the tuna, the market sold other strange-looking sea creatures, as well as over 1,200 tons of fruits and vegetables each day.
After oooh-ing and ahh-ing over massive tuna, oogling the strange sea creatures and dodging quick-moving warehouse trucks we were ready to eat. Our brains were filled with information and it was time to fill our bellies. We headed to the outer market where the majority of the food tasting would be.
The Outer Market
The outer marked is divided into three streets focused on different things. Street one is all about dried goods, street two is fresh seafood, and street three is the restaurant street.
Dried Goods and Bonito
Along the first street of the outer market, Yu gracefully led us through the crowds of people to his favorite stores. We tasted smoked squid, dried fruit, grasshopper (yes, grasshopper!), seaweed, green tea, wasabi flavored snacks, beans, sweet black beans, and our favorite — bonito.
Bonito is an extremely important fish in Japanese cooking. It often makes the stock for soups, and adds a nice flavor to many dishes. The bonito filet gets smoked then dried for six months where it hardens and becomes ready for shaving. Bonito flakes are deeply flavorful, with a smoky, savory taste that adds instant flavor to any dish.
Fresh Oysters at Saito-Suisan
We then turned off of the first street and onto the second street, which is all about fresh seafood. First up was a taste of the biggest oyster we have ever seen. Saito-Suisan, the fish shop where we had the tasting, is a famous spot in the market. It is often the go-to shop for filming and food tastings on TV. I am not a fan of oysters, so I am not the best to describe the flavor. Chris loved it’s briny and salty taste.
Fried Fish Cake
Further down the second street we stopped for a taste of fried fish cakes. These snacks are made from the small fish that do not sell in the market. They are made into balls, fried and served on a stick for easy devouring.
Sake Tasting at Ichi-Oribako-Ten-Sake
After properly filling up on snacks on the first two streets, we turned down the third street where we learned about Japanese knives, serving dishes and…sake. One of the coolest parts of this tour was the sake tasting at Ichi-Oribako-Ten-Sake.
We tasted a simple, dry sake made with 70% rice, served in a handmade cedar wooden box. The folks who run this famous sake store were kind, excited for us to be there, and really enthusiastic about sake. If I were to be making a sake purchase I would most definitely return to this store!
Proper Sushi Meal at Sushi Kaetsura Restaurant
The sake store was the last stop inside the Tsukiji Fish Market. We walked five minutes down the road to our final stop, and the place where we would do the most eating, Sushi Kaetsura.
Fumito and Yu chose this sushi restaurant over the more crowded sushi places inside the market because of their resasonable prices, quality sushi, and comfortable atmosphere. They definitely made the right choice!
We watched the sushi chef create our meal and place it on the wooden block in front of us. The sushi seemed to be never ending! Our plates were quickly filled with salmon, sea bream, tuna, shrimp, scallop, daikon, yellowtail, cucumber maki, egg, radish maki, and eel. Whew! We had no problem devouring this massive selection of sushi.
As we ate, Yu taught us the three rules for eating sushi the proper way:
- You can use your hands.
- Just dip the fish into the soy sauce, not the rice.
- Eat it all in one bite.
The three kilometers of walking (3,700 steps-gotta love the Fitbit!) perfectly balanced the amount of eating. The first half of the tour is heavy on information and history, while the second half is all about discovering new flavors. The perfect combination for a tour.
Behind the Scenes of Tokyo FooDrink
TokyoFooDrink is a walking Tokyo experience that combines history, food and exercise into one perfect three hour tour. The co-founders, Fumito and Yu, began Tokyo FooDrink to combine their love of food and travel with their love for their home country of Japan. After venturing on an epic one year trip around the world, they returned with the idea to start a company of their own to take foreigners one step deeper into the Japanese culture. They spent two months trying and tasting everything (sounds like an amazing job to me) to discover the best bites in Tokyo.
They started this great adventure two years ago and have been growing ever since. They lead four small group tours (no more than 4 people) a day and have over 20 tour guides.
What we love about food tours is that they are not just about the food, and that really shined through with Tokyo FooDrink. On this tour, we learned a heck of a lot about the history of Tokyo and how important the fish market is to the city.
If you like to eat AND want to learn about how the Tsukiji Fish Market supplies the city, I can highly recommend a food tour with Tokyo FooDrink.
Check them out here: Tokyo FooDrink
*Thank you to Fumito and Yu and everyone over at Tokyo FooDrink for hosting us. We had an incredible time, and all the delicious opinions are our own.
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