10 am, and the market was bustling. Tourist and locals walking fast, speaking even faster, only slowing down as they approach each little stall. The Tsukiji market is the largest fish market in the world and it swallowed us whole. We wandered its winding alleys, craning our necks, curious and salivating over everything.
We entered a skinny alley, so tight people turn sideways to let others walk through, and a woman parted a plastic curtain for us. A narrow sushi counter with two men quietly eating rice bowls, and a chef with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Like he had a secret he couldn’t wait to share. We sat down, we pointed at pictures on the menu, we ate. I had the best tuna bowl of my life.
That’s the top photo and it had maguro (tuna), chutoro (fatty tuna), otoro (extra fatty tuna), chopped tuna, and tamago (egg) on top of rice. This was one of the most delicious and memorable things I have ever eaten, and it blew away all my other sushi experiences. They already had me at fatty tuna, but extra fatty tuna?? It was incredible. The sashimi was soft and silky, and melted in my mouth like ocean butter.
I wish I remembered how we got to that little counter. I wish I wrote down directions, took pictures of the signs outside, saved a receipt. But we were lost in the what seemed like a labyrinth, colorful and pulsing with life, and I couldn’t really think of anything else except of where we were and what we were eating at that moment.
Matt ordered a rice bowl, too, with bright slices of salmon sashimi, slippery balls of briny caviar, and more of that creamy chopped tuna. We tried each other’s food and both agreed that my tuna bowl was sublime. And then, as quickly as we sat down, we had to leave so other people can sit and eat. The chef gave us a wink.
By now, the Tsukiji market feels like a dream. But I can still vividly imagine the smell of food wafting through the crisp air, my fascination with unfamiliar ingredients, giant tuna heads, dried seafood, and other things I longed to eat (sadly, I have developed an allergy to scallops and sea urchin).
Matt and I walked for hours, eating every few minutes – a breakfast bowl, a warm pastry, a few yakitori skewers. More scenes below:
dried fruit right outside the market | chicken liver yakitori | taiyaki (a fish-shaped pancake stuffed with red bean paste) | Japanese greens | bacon-wrapped and cheese-stuffed seafood rolls
The Tsukiji market is in the district of Chuo in central Tokyo. It is easily accessible by the extra-efficient train system, and near the shopping district of Ginza. Matt and I stayed at The Conrad, which I very much enjoyed and highly recommend. It was just a few minutes away from Tsukiji and has direct underground access to the trains.
view from our room at The Conrad Tokyo
We were only in Tokyo for a couple of days, and aside from Tsukiji, our other main adventure was going to the Shibuya district.
Shibuya crossing is the famous intersection right outside Shibuya station. It’s rumored to be the busiest intersection in the world. When the lights turn red, it’s from all directions at the same time, so the center of the junction is filled with pedestrians crossing.
We spent an evening in this district, ducking in an out of shops and boutiqes, refreshing ourselves with fruit smoothies, and finally settling down for a steak dinner.
I had a ribeye, fatty and perfectly seasoned, cooked on a hot stone grill. It was delicious but it didn’t hold a candle to the wagyu steak I ate in Osaka. And we were amused by the “large” smoothies we had while shopping, which were the equivalent of a small in the U.S.
I bought these beautiful Japan-made, blush-colored leather sneakers from Onitsuka Tiger. (I work for Runkeeper, an ASICS company, and I have fallen in love with Onitsuka shoes.) This particular pair was beautifully made, with the prettiest pink shade, and bronze-colored laces.
After our short stay in Tokyo, we hopped back on the Shinkansen and joined my family again in Osaka. We had a fantastic time and we’re certainly planning on coming back, exploring more of Ginza, and especially visiting Tsujiki again, which for me was the ultimate highlight of our trip.
The Tsukiji market is labeled a fish market but it is so much more than just seafood. The Eater Guide to Tokyo, which was just recently published, actually encourages visitors to skip the sushi and try other dishes at this expansive market. But if you ask me, please don’t skip the sushi. Find a little counter in the market, rub elbows with the locals, get some sushi, sashimi, a rice bowl. You, too, might just end up with the best tuna bowl of your life.
If you’d like to read more about my travels in Japan, please check out these blog posts about Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo.