Planning a trip to Tokyo, Japan? Consider making a stop at the Tsukiji Fish Market, where the famous tuna auction takes place most mornings.
Of course, when we say mornings we mean before dawn – usually around 5.30am – but you would need to get there as early as 3am to get in the queue. The fishmongers don’t necessarily like having tourists around the auction area so viewing space is limited. Since the market is scheduled to relocate in November, tourist visits at Tsukiji have largely increased.
If the thought of being at a fish market before dawn doesn’t sound too exciting for you, then our advice is to go between 9am and 1pm, also known as The Time You Are Hungry.
Travel Tip: When you’re done with Tsukiji, walk towards Ginza instead of going straight into a train station. There are gardens and a theatre along the way, as well as shops that specialise in Japanese green tea.
When you get to Tsukiji, there will be hundreds (maybe even thousands!) of people around so be prepared to jostle your way through the crowd. The Japanese may give you a tiny bit of personal space, but the tourists will not!
And yes, the locals do go to Tsukiji too as it is still a normal fish market. But with lovely street snacks and some kitschy souvenirs.
Here are some things – yes, mostly food – to look out for when you’re there:
Tamago means egg in Japanese and yaki just means cooked. Tamagoyaki, simply put, is a fluffy egg omelette that is sort of rolled and shaped into a rectangular, erm, box. A single portion is ¥100 (RM3.70) and looks like a stick of aiskrim potong! A big serving can cost you up to ¥1,050 (RM38.35), depending on additional ingredients in the omelette.
A few years back when we visited Tsukiji, there weren’t that many people around and it was relatively easy to find the tamagoyaki shop; during our recent visit we got a little confused by the noisy crowd and only managed to find the shop after it ran out of tamago!
Of course they still had their larger servings on display but since we were eating more things that day, we had to give them a pass.
2. The grill men
Several fish stalls have started to offer grilling services to customers. Mind you, their grilling services mostly involve a tiny barbecue grill (the kind you bring on camping trips) with hot charcoal and a fan to control the fire.
It is a great way for the fishmongers to sell leftover items and for tourists to eat cooked fresh seafood at a fraction of the price usually charged at restaurants.
Of course, there are also proper grilling stalls at the market and the easiest to find is this guy in the video, who grilled tuna and salmon steaks, squid and whatever else he could get his hands on that day from his fishmonger friends. We had a tuna steak for ¥300 (RM11.10)!
3. Eat it in the shell
From oysters to sea urchins to scallops, the market has them all. And you can eat them right there at the stalls they’re sold.
You can’t eat everything of course, but don’t worry about that as the folks at the stalls will tell you what’s edible and what needs to be cooked first.
Travel Tip: Stay at a place that allows light cooking so you can buy some fresh seafood, as well as vegetables, and eat them at “home”.
4. Look for souvenirs you can eat
You know what’s great to buy and take home as gifts (for other people or yourself – we don’t judge)? Fresh wasabi, fragrant wakame or seaweed, dried squid and other seafood, seafood-flavoured rice crackers, candy…
You can find all these in the inner part of the Tsukiji market at very reasonable prices.
You can also find “Japan-made” knives there, but make sure you check with your airline first to find out if you can take the knives on board.
5. Take a break at the waiting room
We assumed the waiting room was initially built for men to wait for their wives while they do the weekly shop. But instead, the room was filled with tourists whose legs or feet were tired (many were softly pounding on their knees with their fists, as if that helped).
Still, do check it out for the vending machines, mostly selling hot and cold beverages. Yes, they do have canned coffees and teas that come out of the machines hot. These would be great during winter.
Also, the waiting room has free WiFi so if you need to check into your Facebook page and post a picture of you eating fresh oysters, you can do it at the waiting room.