A review on Tsukiji Fish Market from a tourist’s perspective
What holiday to Tokyo, Japan will be complete without a visit to the famed Tsukiji Fish Market? Armed with a trove of knowledge provided online on how best to discover Tsukiji Fish Market, my travel companions and I prepared for the visit by sleeping early. We were warned that beyond 9:00am, visitors would be packed like sardines in a can with each other (“Oh the irony…” I thought to myself). True to reviews online, when we arrived at Tsukiji around 7:30am, there was a tranquil calmness in the atmosphere.
Although it was still early, at only 8:00am, the first food stall that caught our eye was a large Japanese omelette (tamago) stall that started dishing out large, steaming chunks of sweet omelettes on styrofoam plates. Priced at only ¥100 (S$1.22 at press time), it was clearly a steal, much more so in a country where the standard of living is so high! Needless to say, my travel companions and I each bought a plate to savour and even took a mandatory group tamago picture.
Notably, Tsukiji Market has been in recent news, over the closure of the auction market. According to Japanese authorities, such a move was implemented to prepare the area for the 2020 Olympics which Tokyo is hosting. What remains of Tsukiji, is actually the outer market where close to 600 stalls sell a variety of food and wares, ranging from puffer fish to chopsticks. We noticed that while the famed Tsukiji auction market may be closed, there was still a 3-storied indoor market complex that sold fresh seafood and even had a rooftop for customers to enjoy their seafood. As we ventured inside, we noticed a large, white poster at the entrance describing the types of seafood sold in the market, each with Japanese characters and picture.
Not far from the entrance, we spotted a local stall that specialized in a delicacy, that would arguably pose a moral dilemma. Whale meat. My travel companions and I stood outside the stall pondering for a good 15 minutes if we should give it a try at the expense of endangered whales. Being a democratic group of friends, it was 3:2, in favour of trying whale meat. Priced at only ¥200 (S$2.44), we decided to go for the whale cutlet. The stall assistant then picked up a large slab of whale meat, glowing with a dark red hue, and dropped it into a fryer. Upon munching on the cutlet, we could all agree it tasted somewhat like beef, yet with a harder texture.
Feeding my curiosity, I politely asked the burly middle-aged stall assistant, “Are these whale meat from endangered whales?”. “No, no, safe to eat…” he replied in semi-broken English. I decided not to probe further but take it as one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
As we left the indoor market complex and continued on our way around the outer market, we noticed throngs of tourists streaming in. It was nearly 11:00am already and the streets were nearly packed. It was almost impossible to stop and admire what a stall had to offer, without feeling a slight push from the legions of tourists who were behind you.
While looking online for recommended lunch spots near Tsukiji, the night before, we stumbled upon a sushi restaurant called ‘Sushi Zanmai”, which had stellar ratings of 4.43/5. We let Google Maps lead us towards ‘Sushi Zanmai’ and we were shocked upon seeing the snaking queue outside its premises. A bespectacled young waiter came outside to greet us, and explained the waiting time would be 40 minutes and upwards. It was winter at a temperature of 3 °C, yet we gritted our teeth and made use of the heaters provided to customers waiting in the cold. Soon enough, we got to place our orders, and I chose a “chirashi” don while most of my friends chose the sushi set.
When our orders arrived, we were stunned by the generous portions and freshness of the seafood prepared (to be fair, we paid quite a bit here). A common practice among those belonging to Generation Z, we dared not touch our food before taking a picture for our Instagram accounts. When we finally tucked in, the explosion of flavours blew us away, and to date, I still say that the seafood we had at Sushi Zanmai, was the best throughout the whole of our 15 day trip to Japan.
As we left the restaurant and made our way to the next destination on our itinerary, we totalled up our expenditure at Tsukiji Market, “¥2800 (S$34.08), not too bad… definitely enjoyed more than our money’s worth” I thought to myself. Although a common tourist attraction recommended by many guidebooks and travel blogs, do not let the large crowd at Tsukiji dissuade you from making a trip there yourself! It is highly suggested (from experience, by yours truly) that travellers start their tour of Tsukiji Market before 8:00am for the best experience. Also, I would recommend prospective visitors to take the Oedo Line to Tsukijishijo Station and walk to the market using the signs from the station, instead of taking a public bus. We went to Tsukiji by bus, and noted that the bus stop was quite a distance away from the market, and had few signs to point us on the right way. On a personal note, while there are many markets throughout Japan, Tsukiji stands out for its exceptionally fresh seafood and lively atmosphere. With or without its auction market, Tsukiji is still truly a magical place.