Today, Jacque and I discovered the promised land.
No, not the one in the Bible. Not Shangri-La. Not the Land Before Time. Not Never-Never Land, not Nirvana, not Mecca, not the Fountain of Youth. Trouble me not with these trifling places, they are but mere way-stations on the Hibiya subway line of life.
Today, Jacque and I found the Place. It exists, right here in Tokyo, in an industrial-feeling corner of the city near the Imperial Palace. It’s a Place with bustling activity. Small forklifts zip around, hawkers sell their wares, water splashes at your feet, men with knives make treasures. What Place, you might ask, have you found?
None other than the Place Where Sushi Comes From, the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.
Many of you know, some of you may not: I friggin’ love sushi. If it weren’t crazy expensive (even here in Japan, though less so) and loading me up with mercury, I would eat it for two meals every day and want more. I’m always on the lookout for good sushi at home, and since we’ve been in Japan, I’ve insisted that we get the grocery store sushi – which is actually delicious and cheaper than restaurants – whenever possible. I encouraged our Airbnb hosts in northern Tokyo, Emma and Shotaro, to show us their favorite conveyor-belt sushi place. The rich, buttery taste of yellowtail, the slightly sweet rice, the unexpected smoothness of salmon, the slight crunch in a roll with asparagus: I crave it.
Every morning at 5:00am, the Tsukiji Market holds a tuna auction. There are only 120 visitors allowed in the auction each day. Sadly, we weren’t able to go – not least because the trains don’t start running until 5 anyway, and the only other option is a $70 cab – but we did get the chance to visit the market later in the morning. The market is everything a working fish market should be. The sellers, buyers, butchers, and deliverymen run around in knee-high, plastic mud boots, with small delivery vehicles carrying Styrofoam containers everywhere. Live fish, eels, and crabs wiggle in buckets at every step. And at the front are the prize fish, won in the wee hours of the morning: workers in plastic aprons cut huge pieces of flash-frozen tuna, the size of a grown man’s torso, using machine-shop band saws.
I couldn’t leave without buying some fish. At one wholesaler, there were several plastic containers of tuna the same size as Whole Foods take-out sushi. The containers were full of sliced tuna. Note here that I don’t mean there was a lot or that I was impressed by the amount of fish or that it felt like a good value or something. No. The containers were literally full of fish, heavy to lift, enough tuna sashimi to make 18 or so pieces at any sushi restaurant in Denver at a cost of, say, 40 dollars at the cheapest. And it would be three days or more off the boat after the flight across the Pacific. At the Tsukiji Market, it cost us $7.35, and it was caught less than 24 hours ago.
God bless the Place Where Sushi Comes From. Seriously.
After touring the market, we went to a convenience store down the street, bought some wasabi, soy sauce, and rice balls for $2.50, sat down on the sidewalk, and enjoyed a breakfast sushi feast. The tuna was about as fresh as it gets; it could, perhaps, be fresher if you were actually on the fishing boat when it was caught. We got some odd looks from people passing us, but the sidewalk ambience in downtown Tokyo did the fish justice. For $10 and a seat on a curb, I was riding on cloud nine, a sushi lover in Mecca for one day. I’ve never had such a fantastic breakfast in my life.
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