Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Delightful Early Morning Walk Through the Tsukiji Outer Market

Tsukiji Fish Market is well known as the source of the best quality fish and seafood in Tokyo, in Japan and yes, perhaps the world.
More than ten years ago, on my first visit to Tokyo to attend a meeting at Dentsu, I roused myself at 4 am on a bleak and cold November dawn and hied off to the fish market in Tsukiji.
Without knowing anyone, without speaking a word of Japanese, I silently crept through the gates and found my way to the fish auction where I watched wide eyed as hundreds of frozen whole tuna were quickly sold and hauled off.
I noted that I was the only non Japanese in the entire auction area and certainly, the only one who had no business being there.
But that was then -- the past few years have seen a heavy influx of visitors to Tsukiji from famous chefs to tourists to food groupies.
Today, those who have no business at all in the Fish Market are barred from entering until after 9 am. You can only come in after the auction has finished, and after most of the morning's operations have been completed.
But there is another perhaps less tourist frequented attraction in Tsukiji -- the Outer Market right outside the gates. It's composed of little alleyways full of shops selling edible and non edible goodies -- where Tokyo's restaurateurs and housewives alike shop for their kitchen needs.

The 15 minute walk from Shiodome where I stay, to the Tsukiji Market is pleasant and lined with flowering shrubs and willow trees.

This is the block where the Tsukiji Outer Market stands. It opens early morning and closes at 2 pm every day except Sundays, holidays and two Wednesdays each month.

One side of the market has food stalls standing side by side, each one selling its specialty dish. There are donburi stalls, tempura stalls, noodle stalls, etc. Shoppers and office goers drop by for a quick bite to eat, some take their meals standing up, ready to slurp and go.

There are many stores within the market that sell all kinds of wet and dry goods.

There are also a number of sushi restaurants that can obviously offer the freshest and best catch of the day -- being so near the Fish Market.

Pick up kitchen and pantry supplies like chopsticks, baskets, knives, toothpicks and other essentials. I sometimes find interesting things to take home for pasalubong like hand towels and chopstick rests.

There are a lot of packaged food items like spices and seasonings...

You can even find the best cuts of beef from all over Japan. Who says you can only find seafood and fish at Tsukiji?

There are stalls that sell food that's ready to eat. I specially like these fried fish and seafood cakes which come in brown paper bags -- the better to sop up the oiliness with!

It may be just scrambled egg to you but to the Japanese, these yellow blocks of cooked tamago
are specially prepared and come in different varieties -- with herbs or spices or even other ingredients like seafood or meat.

I love these unaju or unadon or unagi donburi boxes. While not inexpensive, these grilled and smoked eel fillets brushed with a special sweetish sauce are so delectably good. With skin that is lightly crisped, these succulent and tender fillets are placed on top of a bed of rice, to make for a rich and satisfying treat.

Naturally, there are many other types of seafood found in the market -- crabs and shrimp that are very much live and fresh and expensive of course.

The market also sells a lot of fresh produce. These matsutakes are some of the most expensive mushrooms I have ever seen -- Y6,500 for a small box! Little did I know, I would be enjoying these very same mushrooms later on at dinner.

There are fat asparagus stalks ...

And a dear favorite of mine -- all kinds of tsukemono or pickles which are a perfect accompaniment to hot freshly cooked rice!

All sizes and kinds of ceramic bowls, plates, trays, saucers and sauce dishes are laid out on the sidewalk. Some are really so pretty and unique but I always worry they won't survive the trip home.

When you get to the end of the Outer Market, you see the entrance to the Tsukiji Fish Market.
Unfortunately, you can no longer just saunter in.

Just outside the Fish Market is the lovely and quiet Namiyoke  shrine specially dedicated to the people of Tsukiji.  Many workers and shop owners drop by, pay homage and give thanks -- for the continued blessings and abundance that the Fish Market brings to their lives.

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