Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo’s Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Sushi for Breakfast: Early Morning Auctions at Tsukiji
For serious sushi aficionados, an early morning visit to the former Tsukiji fish market is an absolute must. While the inner market has now moved to Toyosu, the outer market retains much of the charm and excitement of its former home. Arriving before dawn offers a one-of-a-kind experience that captures the essence of this iconic Tokyo institution.
As the first rays of sun creep over the horizon, Tsukiji comes alive with the organized chaos of the daily tuna auction. Massive frozen tuna are wheeled in and lined up on the floor, while prospective bidders scrutinize their quality. When the bell rings, the flurry of bids begins as these tuna change hands for eye-watering sums. Even after the move, a limited number of visitors can still observe the tuna auction at Toyosu Market.
While witnessing the auction is exhilarating, the real highlight for many foodies is indulging in the freshest sushi imaginable. As soon as the prized tuna are sold, they are whisked away to the small sushi stalls surrounding the market. Here, talented itamae (sushi chefs) slice, mold and press the tender red flesh into nigiri sushi. A breakfast set of tuna and toro nigiri, still quivering with freshness, is the ultimate way to start the day.
In addition to the upscale sushi bars, small ramen stands and udon shops offer steaming bowls of noodles to hungry workers. A salty broth poured over toothsome noodles, with chashu pork and a soft-boiled egg, provides warm comfort on chilly mornings. Don't be surprised to see stall owners enjoying a pre-dawn beer either!
While most shops close by early afternoon, a few famously remain open into the night - Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi chief among them. Arriving in the afternoon means no auction but shorter queues, and the sushi is just as sublime. However you time your visit, savor every sweet, briny morsel of tuna and sea urchin. It's easy to see why sushi connoisseurs consider Tsukiji's offerings the finest in the world.
Beyond sushi, Tsukiji Market offers a wealth of culinary delights. Crab, uni sea urchin, giant scallops and exotic fish varieties line the stalls, perfectly fresh. Shopkeepers are happy to explain their products, best cooking methods or even offer free samples. For those who love seafood and Japanese cuisine, the sheer variety at Tsukiji is astonishing. Don't miss the chance to experience these treasures straight from the source.
What else is in this post?
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Sushi for Breakfast: Early Morning Auctions at Tsukiji
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - From FishMONGER to Foodie Haven
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Street Food Mecca: Snacking Your Way Through Tsukiji
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Ramen Rules: Slurping Down Noodles Near Tsukiji
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Kaiseki in Tsukiji: Fine Dining on the Fish Market's Fringe
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Shopping for Seafood: A Cook's Paradise in Tsukiji
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Cooking Classes: Learning Traditional Japanese Dishes
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Tsukiji After Dark: Bars and Izakayas Come Alive
- Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Tsukiji's Transformation: What the Move Means for Foodies
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - From FishMONGER to Foodie Haven
Tsukiji Market originated in the Edo Period as a wholesale fish market, catering to professional buyers and purveyors. While tourists could observe the tuna auction, visiting the inner market was strictly business. When the inner market relocated to Toyosu in 2018, however, Tsukiji was reborn as a foodie paradise for visitors. Freed from its role as Tokyo’s primary fish distribution hub, the outer market transformed into a vibrant culinary destination.
Previously, most shops closed by early afternoon after supplying restaurants and merchants. Now, many remain open into the evenings to welcome hungry tourists. Food stalls serve up sashimi bowls and skewered seafood, while kitchenware stores offer cooking demos. Restaurant Takumi Shingo, known for inventive seafood kaiseki courses, opened post-relocation – a telling sign of Tsukiji’s shift.
The more relaxed atmosphere encourages eating and photography, once frowned upon. Now, visitors can linger over meals without being hustled along. On my last visit, a shopkeeper even showed me how to extract uni sea urchin from its spiny shell, a tutorial I never would have received pre-move.
Tsukiji also draws famous chefs and artisans offering their wares. Ramen legend Ivan Orkin opened a stall serving noodle bowls with smoked butterfish dashi broth. Masahiro Nakata, acclaimed for his delicate confectionary, sells mizuame candy made from fermented sticky rice. For food lovers, such culinary stars make Tsukiji a magnet.
While Toyosu handles the fish supply, Tsukiji retains its unmatched diversity of seafood. Traversing the market remains a journey past stalls heaped with exotic species – from dreaming-of-Jeannie box fish to brilliant blue lobsters. This richness diminished in Toyosu's more sterile, modern facility.
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Street Food Mecca: Snacking Your Way Through Tsukiji
Beyond sushi and seafood purveyors, Tsukiji Market overflows with delicious snacks to sample on the go. From steamed buns to grilled skewers, the sheer variety of street eats reflects Tokyo’s culinary diversity. For visitors with appetites, the outer market offers a moveable feast.
Gindako Takoyaki, famed for its piping hot octopus dumplings, constantly draws long lines. Balls of dough encase morsels of octopus, simmering in an umami-rich broth within spherical iron pans. A tangy okonomiyaki sauce, sprinkle of bonito flakes and smear of mayonnaise top the piping hot takoyaki with complementary flavors. Be careful not to burn your mouth as you pop these morsels! Japan takes its takoyaki seriously, and Gindako’s recipe perfection reflects generations of expertise.
In between takoyaki, cool off with refreshing kakigori shaved ice. Fluffy mounds come drizzled with sweet condensed milk and mochi rice cakes at Kakigori Manseibashi. For only 500 yen, it’s the ideal treat for hot Tokyo days (or icing down your takoyaki-scalded tongue). The Japanese take comfort in the texture of these desserts as much as the taste.
Of course, no food tour is complete without ramen. While Tsukiji boasts no shortage of noodle stands, Shinatatsu Ramen and its creamy shio (salt) broth stands out. Extra servings of chashu braised pork belly satisfy hearty appetites. Should you still have room after slurping noodles, grab dessert next door at Hoppy Street Doughnuts. Light, fluffy doughnuts get dipped in matcha green tea or kinako roasted soybean flour, putting a Japanese spin on the classic treat.
Beyond street food stalls, numerous sake shops in Tsukiji offer tastings and sell bottled varieties nationwide. Niigata Prefecture's sake has a well-deserved reputation for excellence. Sample multiple styles like crisp daiginjo or full-bodied junmai to appreciate the range of flavors. Sake pairs perfectly with sashimi, so sip a glass with your seafood.
For those favoring sweets over spirits, Ichigo Ame specializes in strawberry-infused products. Their jellies, marshmallows and even strawberry-shaped mochi bear the berry's distinctive fruity aroma. It’s a taste of Japanese innovation, maximizing flavor from a beloved ingredient.
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Ramen Rules: Slurping Down Noodles Near Tsukiji
Ramen is practically synonymous with Japanese cuisine, and the plethora of ramen shops surrounding Tsukiji Market proves the noodle soup's enduring popularity. While Tokyo boasts no shortage of exceptional ramen joints, the sheer concentration around Tsukiji sets the area apart. Ramen connoisseurs could spend months taste-testing the selections and never run out of new bowls to sample.
For first-timers, navigating the ramen scene can seem daunting given the number of restaurants crammed into a few small blocks. However, Tsukiji offers something for every palate. Shops specialize in salty shio, rich tonkotsu pork bone broth, or lighter assari and tori paitan chicken soups. Beyond broths, endless customization provides diners control over ingredients like garlic, spices and oil to match personal tastes. Toppings range from seasoned pork belly chashu to crispy tempura flakes.
Ivan Orkin, the iconoclastic American ramen chef of Ivan Ramen fame, chose Tsukiji as the site for his newest location. Ivan Tokyo Ramen serves an intensely smoky and savory broth made from dried Japanese butterfish, honoring Tsukiji's role as Tokyo's historic fish market. Crowds continually pack the standing-only counter for a taste of Orkin's famously obsessive creations. While lacking seats, Ivan Ramen oozes hip style with neon signage and blaring club tracks.
In contrast, Hatsuogawa Ramen sits tucked on a quiet side street near the outer market's perimeter. Its classic shoyu broth and surprisingly delicate chashu exemplify the traditional, subtle end of the ramen spectrum. Those favoring heartiness over refinement should try the Hakata-style tonkotsu broth at Raijin Ramen instead. Regardless of styles, each Tsukiji ramen-ya reflects a labor of love and dedication to perfecting noodles.
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Kaiseki in Tsukiji: Fine Dining on the Fish Market's Fringe
While Tsukiji Market teems with casual eateries and street food stalls, its fringes also harbour hidden gems for fine dining. Kaiseki, the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner service, finds elevated expression in restaurants integrating Tsukiji’s bounty. Dining at these kaiseki havens offers intimacy, elegance and above all, peerless ingredients from the neighboring market.
Chome no Suzume, nestled on a quiet side street, provides a refined haven amid Tsukiji’s bustle. Chef Daisuke Kaneko’s seasonal tasting menus highlight Sea of Japan delicacies like hairy crab and firefly squid, accented by foraged mountain vegetables. Each dish balances flavor, texture and appearance, underscoring kaiseki’s meticulous perfectionism. One meal spans twinkling jellyfish salad dressed in their own tendrils to unbeatable uni ink-black with briny sweetness. Sommelier Shinichi Watabe pairs flutes of glowing junmai daiginjo sake, their fruit-forward notes complementing the seafood. While indulgent, Chome no Suzume's tranquil space encourages lingering.
For an inventive take on tradition, Restaurant Takumi Shingo maiden opened post-market move, realizing owner Shingo Takano’s decade-long dream. Despite a modernist edge, Takumi Shingo's philosophy remains firmly kaiseki – celebrating seasonality through refined technique. Tart blood orange granita with lightly cured hamachi, finished with caviar, balances citrus and savory in stunning harmony. The theater of tableside carving of turbot cooked in broth showcases respect for ingredients. Takumi Shingo also offers excellent value, with lunches under 5,000 yen presenting three courses of skillfully balanced flavor and texture.
Tsukiji’s own sushi legend, Sushi Saito, transferred to the luxury Park Hyatt with China-trained chef Koji Saito at the helm. An otherworldly soy sauce marinade draws out tuna’s luscious fattiness, followed by pickled ginkgo nut sushi resetting the palate. Rare nigirizushi pressed directly in the chef’s palm highlight personal attention. Given Saito’s months-long reservation waitlist, the Appiare food concierge service offers coveted seats for lucky few. The rituals of sake pouring and seasonal fish selections immerse diners in omotenashi hospitality's heart.
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Shopping for Seafood: A Cook's Paradise in Tsukiji
For those who love seafood, especially cooking and eating it at home, the shopping opportunities at the outer Tsukiji Market are unparalleled. The sheer diversity and quality of fish, shellfish and roe available directly from the source creates a cook’s paradise.
The most devoted home chefs arrive armed with wheeled carts, ice packs and coolers. They systematically work through Tsukiji’s labyrinth of stalls, selecting choice ingredients for upcoming dinner parties or restocking kitchen supplies. While intimidating at first glance, vendors are remarkably approachable and eager to assist. Shopkeepers provide cooking suggestions, explain seasonal recommendations and detail how their products were caught or farmed. For sustainably minded buyers, Tsukiji offers copious choices beyond endangered Bluefin tuna. Farmed amberjack from Kagoshima, pole and line caught bonito, and plump Hokkaido scallops represent gentler environmental options.
Shopping for obscure seafood oddities also holds appeal for adventurous eaters. Tsukiji abounds with unlikely creatures from the deep waiting to be transformed into culinary gems.ogeini giant squid’s elastic tentacles flail wildly yet become tender when braised in broth. Similarly, razor-toothed anago saltwater eels yield mild, succulent fillets when simmered and grilled. Shoppers find wild inspiration pondering what dishes these exotic catches could become.
Chef Myonghwa Park of the two-Michelin starred Korean restaurant MYST in Vienna extols Tsukiji’s virtues for her kitchen. During visits to Japan, she stocks up on prized ingredients unavailable in Europe, from live uni sea urchins to maguro tuna belly reserved for sashimi. Park shares that Tsukiji offers the world’s best seafood while buying directly helps small vendors: “I want to support Tsukiji's local shops, especially after the move.” For Park, only Tsukiji provides superlative seafood well-worth transcontinental transport home.
Of course, Tsukiji also caters to more modest home cooking. Moms fill shopping bags with fishcakes, ready-to-eat salads, and perfectly portioned fillets. A stop at the knife sharpener readies dull blades for the week’s meal prep. Forgotten pantry essentials like kombu dried kelp and bonito flakes can also be found. Tsukiji truly serves as a fully stocked seafood department for residents.
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Cooking Classes: Learning Traditional Japanese Dishes
Tsukiji Market provides the ultimate ingredients for Japanese home cooking. For visitors seeking to learn hands-on culinary skills during their stay, the outer market’s abundant cooking classes unlock the secrets behind preparing traditional dishes. Ranging from sushi workshops to udon making, Tsukiji’s classes allow travelers to immerse themselves in Japan’s rich food culture.
Tsukiji Soba Academy offers the rare chance for gaijin (foreigners) to craft udon noodles from scratch. Students first knead dough of just four ingredients – bread flour, salt, water and udon powder. After resting, the dough gets rolled through presses to form noodles, then boiled in dashi broth. The chewy, nutty texture of freshly made noodles differs remarkably from dried store-bought udon. Students then progress to hand-cutting udon, twirling blades to produce even strips while avoiding fingertips! For a complete experience, Tsukiji Soba Academy sessions end by dining on just-prepared noodles paired with tempura.
Travelers can also try crafting onigiri rice balls, loved for their portability and flavor. Seasoned fillings like umeboshi pickled plums, salmon flakes or tuna mayo get pressed into triangles of steamed rice, then wrapped with crisp nori seaweed. Don’t forget to gently rotate onigiri to shape and compress the rice. Classes teach proper shaping for sturdy, compact onigiri that won’t fall apart on the go. With personalized guidance, even novice cooks can master this staple Japanese snack.
For seafood aficionados, sushi-making workshops capture Tsukiji’s essence. Instructors first demonstrate slicing techniques, emphasizing the importance of freshness. Students then try their hand at breaking down fish and molding the all-important rice. Getting the hang of rolling makizushi rolls without falling apart takes practice! Should attempts go awry, simply reshape the ingredients and try again. You’ll gain appreciation for the real skill behind a sushi chef’s seemingly effortless preparations. Classes also cover the etiquette of properly eating sushi, critical for avoiding faux pas when dining out afterwards.
Beyond hands-on sessions, market tours help decode Japan’s unique ingredients. An expert guide illuminated unfamiliar seafood like the slimy mountain caviar known as iskikurage and the prized Oma tuna of northern Japan’s Aomori Prefecture. I also discovered unusual produce like green-skinned bitter melons and the gnarled root vegetables popular for simmering in winter hotpots. Classes transform Tsukiji’s overwhelm into inspiration.
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Tsukiji After Dark: Bars and Izakayas Come Alive
After the vendors pack up their stalls and the tour groups disappear, Tsukiji Market takes on a whole new energy once the sun goes down. The streets and alleys surrounding the market transform into a lively nightlife district filled with izakaya gastropubs and bars. This is when Tsukiji really comes alive for locals and intrepid foodies seeking a lively and authentic local experience in Tokyo.
While Tsukiji draws plenty of tourists, it remains a neighborhood for residents and workers first and foremost. So after dark, salarymen fresh from the office pile into tiny izakayas for beer and skewers of yakitori. Groups of friends bar hop their way through the narrow lanes, ducking into whatever spot catches their eye. Instead of photo snapping, phones get put away in favor of drinking and conversation. There's a cozy, communal feel that contrasts sharply with Tsukiji's daytime bustle.
In keeping with the surrounding seafood markets, Tsukiji's izakayas highlight the freshest catches in their varied offerings. The drink menus focus heavily on sake, from local Tokyo breweries to prized regional styles like those from Niigata. Don't expect any fruity cocktails or even much shochu liquor - it's classic drinks only, befitting Tsukiji's traditional character. Slurping down oysters fresh from the market paired with a glass of crisp nigori sake makes for an unbeatable pairing.
Yamagen is a favorite local izakaya serving Tsukiji seafood delights like creamy sea urchin donburi bowls and charcoal-grilled mackerel kabobs. Their sashimi moriawase platters offer a little taste of everything - tuna, yellowtail, octopus, you name it. Grab a seat at the wraparound counter to watch chefs prepare each dish with care. Sake gets poured generously here, so don't be surprised if strangers strike up a conversation, especially if you're a foreigner. It's all part of the lively atmosphere.
Bars like Manpuku Shokudo also capture the welcoming mood with extensive English menus that make ordering easy. Beyond seafood skewers, their tempura batter-fried treats are worth trying for a crunchy and greasy nightcap. They infuse gin with cherry blossoms for a drink with delicate floral notes to match the cherry tree motifs decorating the cozy space. The chatty bartenders keep the atmosphere cheerful.
Hooked on Tsukiji: Tokyo's Famed Fish Market Transforms into Foodie Paradise - Tsukiji's Transformation: What the Move Means for Foodies
Tsukiji Market defined Tokyo dining for 83 years, serving as the beating heart driving Japan's sushi culture and seafood obsession. When the inner wholesale market relocated to Toyosu in 2018, controversies swirled - could Toyosu ever compare? For tourists and devotees worldwide, the loss of landmarks like the tuna auction felt unthinkable. Yet one year post-move, positive signs emerge that Tsukiji’s essence survives.
While Toyosu now handles distribution, Tsukiji’s outer retail market remains, drawing crowds of shoppers and diners. Stalls overflow with jewel-toned sea urchin and curiously textured monkfish livers. Ramen shops keep pumping out steaming noodle soup late into the night. Steps away, not much has changed. Yet speaks with Tsukiji veterans reveal a more complex reality.
Sushi legend Hachiro Mizutani of the Michelin-starred Sushi Mizutani has operated in Tsukiji for over 40 years. Initially shocked at the move, he cautiously admits that, “now customers can sit and relax,” rather than being rushed out from underfoot of wholesalers. Regular Yoshio Ogura agreesTsukiji feels “more welcoming” and safer with less forklift traffic. While they lament the loss of the inner market's bustle, Tsukiji’s evolution into a foodie destination brings benefits.
For Chef Masataka Tsuda of award-winning sushi restaurant Sushi Hakucho, Toyosu can’t compare to “Tsukiji’s spirit.” Yet he acknowledges that, “even with changes, the restaurants carry on.” His pristine sea urchin and lightly charred kohada gizzard shad nigiri taste as revelatory as ever. While the old Tsukiji represents “important memories,” its essence still infuses Tokyo.
Not all share such acceptance. Chef Daisuke Kaneko of two Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant Chome no Suzume believes “Tsukiji died” when the inner market left. His lyrical seafood creations strive to keep its ethos alive, but a piece of him remains forever nostalgic. For Kaneko, Tsukiji can never be recreated elsewhere.
Mitsuhiko Tsumura of acclaimed fusion izakaya Mitsuhiro laughs that regulars complained Toyosu was “too clean” and modern initially. Yet Tsumura pragmatically adds, “We've endured wars, earthquakes - we persist.” Mitsuhiro's playful dishes like foie gras nigiri still delight. While Toyosu fell short early on, Tsumura trusts Japan’s resilience. If Tsukiji’s spirit fades, he believes this generation of chefs and artisans will spark it anew.