Our first day in Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market

Now that I’m starting a new job, Chadsey and I decided to take a quick 4-day trip to Tokyo, one of our favorite cities in the world! In fact, I can’t believe it has been over three years since our last trip to Japan. On our last trip to Tokyo in 2008, we missed visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market. We had a ton of places we wanted to see, and waking up at the butt crack of dawn just didn’t appeal to us at the time. But now that we’re back, I was determined to experience the largest fish market in the world. Since the fish market is busiest in the early morning (and actually closes at 1:00 pm), we left the Westin Tokyo at 4:30 am and caught at $50 cab over to Tsukiji hoping to get a ticket to the fish auction. Unfortunately we got there a few minutes too late (all the tickets had been given out by 4:50 am), so we chose to wander the fish market and take in the experience on our own.

After getting kicked out of the main wholesale area (tourists are not permitted to enter until 9:00 am in order to minimize the impact on “real business” getting done), we walked over to the restaurant area where we happened to discover Sushi Dai. What attracted us to the restaurant was that at 5:00 am, it already had a gigantic line of over 20 people in front of it! We immediately jumped into line and waited for about an hour and a half  for a tiny seat at their crowed sushi bar. While in line we learned that Sushi Dai is one of the most famous sushi restaurants in Tokyo and due to its location offers some of the freshest fish in the city. In fact a guy standing in line in front of us said that his close friend works for Lonely Planet and advised him that Sushi Dai is “The place to go” for sushi in Tokyo. His friend had actually gone there after going out late one night and waited in line for over 3.5 hours just to eat sushi here! Once you see how small the restaurant is with only 12 seats at the bar and how intimate the setting is, you’ll understand why people love this place.

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Once seated, we opted for the omakase (chef’s selection). The sushi chef was very friendly and engaging, and immediately welcomed us to the restaurant. He also guided us through what pieces were permissible to be dipped in soy sauce and which were not, he even scolded me once for not eating the entire piece of nigiri in one bite!

We started off with toro, which simply melted in your mouth. Although toro does not display the complexity that many fish do, it was a pleasure to start off with such a flavorful and fatty piece of fish. Some of my favorites were the Aji (Horse Mackerel), Kohada (Gizzard Shad), Uni (Sea Urchin), and Anago (Sea Eel). The absolute best in my opinion was the Sawara (Spanish Mackerel), which had a beautiful soft texture and rich flavor. But everything was simply outstanding.

Here is a picture of the Aji.

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Here is the Kohada. A tiny herring like fish in it’s first stages of growth, it was the first time I’ve tasted it. Delicious, and tasted a bit like mackerel.

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This Sawara was simply delightful!

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It wouldn’t be the same without a wonderfully buttery toro!

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By the time we left Sushi Dai, the line was almost 50 people long! I was so glad we got there when we did, and if you plan to go there, make sure you arrive by 6:00 am, or you will be sitting on the sidewalk waiting for hours. I must add that the sushi was only about $50 each, which was incredibly cheap for quality fish in Tokyo, and it sort of explains why the line is always so long. Also, I’ve read that the restaurant closes at 1:00 pm, so plan accordingly!

After our sushi breakfast we explored the fish market. It was fascinating to see all the unique seafood, much of it still alive, and the massive tunas for sale.

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Overall we had an incredible time at the fish market. It was fun to enjoy such a delightful sushi meal, chat with locals while we waited in line, and then wander over to the actual fish market to see the countless and unique types of seafood for sale and business getting done. This was by far the most impressive fish market I have ever been to and I would highly recommend visiting it, and Sushi Dai on your next trip to Tokyo!

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