We were up early and out the door while much of the city was still putting the final touches of their makeup on and sipping the last sips of their tea (we're in Japan after all). Piled evenly into four taxis, and hoping that our drivers would take us all to the same place, we slid through traffic and were dropped off at an entrance to a warehouse looking building. We got out, looked around, but didn't see the other taxi that had left before us. After waiting for about ten minutes, we realized that maybe we hadn't been dropped off at the right place. Wonderful! Here we were, lost in Tokyo, but we knew they couldn't be far. Whizzing around us were men hauling fish from place to place on these small go-cart/fork-lift type contraptions, so we knew we were near the fish market.
Luckily for me and one of the parents, we had students with us and they'd been taking Japanese for the past year. We walked towards a pay phone (I guess situations like this are when people still use these) and a student called our tour leader to find out where they were. They also stopped a man to ask for directions. I would surely have been lost forever, in a city who's language I don't understand and who's characters I can't even begin to decipher, had it not been for the students.
Eventually we found our group and could begin our morning at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, along with everyone else who wanted to get their morning sushi fix, umbrella's in hand to protect themselves from the warm summer's morning sun.
Though I was groggy from my morning wake up call which came in the form of my cell phone blaring that alarm tune that I know all too well, all my senses were awakened at not only the smell of fish, but also by the loud noises coming from every direction, from those whizzing contraptions that didn't stop for anyone, and by my endless sense of fascination at everything that surrounded me.
Around the market itself, many of the men wore towels tied around their heads to keep the sweat out of their eyes and they all wore clunky rubber boots. Styrofoam boxes lined the walkways with fish resting inside. Trucks of all sizes were constantly driving in and out of the gates, surely carrying mounds of fresh ocean critters.
Unfortunately, we couldn't enter the main part of the market, due to the fact that it was closed to tourists until 9am. It made sense really. Restaurant owners and chefs were there to do serious fish buying business and I suppose that crowds of picture taking visitors would hinder that. At first I felt a tad disappointed, but it was all erased by the side streets that we were set free to roam at our own leisure.
Other people had a similar idea. Hoards of people were crowded outside of their favorite restaurants, waiting patiently for a seat at the exclusive feeling, 8 seat bars. Some people had waited a better part of an hour, yet there were, only smiles to be seen. No grumpy morning people here.
As I strategically maneuvered around the masses, I stumbled into a back alley. I almost turned around, but when I caught a glance of an older gentleman, meticulously slicing up a piece of fish, I realized that I had managed to find a backstage pass to each and every one of those restaurants that had people waiting out front. I peeked in, slyly, feeling a bit like the paparazzi, and watched as the chefs fed their hungry customers.
Back to the streets with vegetables and goods, I couldn't help but take notice to all of the delectable and interesting looking things.
There was so much that I didn't recognize and reading signs was out of the question, so I just gazed and guessed to myself what it might be. Was it sweet? Filled with fish? Maybe it was meant for tea? For that price? It must be special? It went something like that.
Time snuck away from me and so I headed to meet up with my group and have breakfast at the delectable and ever so fresh, Sushizanmai.
Our waiter wasted no time in bringing us cool towels and hot green tea, but then something truly magnificent happened; we ordered mounds of food. I for one have never had sushi for breakfast. In fact, I believe that almost none of us had, perhaps with one or two exceptions.
The first thing that came out was actually ordered by accident, but what a terrific accident it was.
This beauty is Tuna Yukke. It's a spicy tuna dish with Korean style tartar. It was delicious. No, I don't think you understand. Maybe these pictures will help.
The yolk breaks beautifully in all of its golden glory into the pink and red hues of the tuna. Together it is sweet, smooth, and one of the most incredible things that I have ever eaten. Go to Sushizanmai, order this, eat it, repeat.
How about a giant fish head to start your morning off?
The red snapper head seasoned in teriyaki sauce was perfectly flaky and full of flavor, even with that glazed over eye staring back at you ("please don't eat me"...sorry?). I saw this on the menu and thought, no, maybe another time, but luckily someone else had less fear than I, and thank the fish gods for that.
When the dish that I had ordered arrived, I did a little happy dance. The Deluxe Chirashi-don came with 13 assorted kids of raw fish and shellfish, all resting over seasoned rice. In the center was a bit of okra and a spoonful of roe (fish eggs).
I went right for the center first. As I pulled up a few pieces of okra, a long line of slime followed. My initial reaction was that this was punishment from the red snapper for eating it, but it's completely natural and comes from the okra itself. It's believed to be very good for you. It wasn't bad. Strange? Yes, but not bad.
The fish was perfect. Every morsel made me jump for joy (on the inside) and as I chewed every bite, I would peer into my bowl, deciding which piece to devour next. Octopus is really chewy, but I eight it anyways (see what I did there?).
My meal also came with a hefty bowl of miso soup. I looked for my spoon, but quickly remembered that soup is often consumed right from the bowl, with both hands on either side.
If there are larger pieces in the soup, feel free to use your chopsticks to fish them out.
I loved this soy sauce vessel. It was so much cuter than the clear bottles with red tops that you see at most Chinese or Japanese restaurants.
Meanwhile, the chefs were preparing many more dishes for us to gobble up ever so gracefully (cough cough).
One of the students ordered a fermented soy bean roll and was gracious enough to offer me a bite (how kind). He said it tasted fine, but look at that face, waiting for my reaction with bated breath.
So, it wasn't terrible. Truly. It tasted a bit like old cheese and had a slimy consistency (which I had already mastered with my okra). He suggested I take another bite (wow, you're just so generous). I'm glad that I tried it. That was one of goals for this trip wasn't it, trying new things? I think I passed with flying colors.
A waitress came around, filling our cups with more tea, as we patted our full bellies with smiles on our faces, and eagerly anticipated the rest of our day which would consist of a museum unlike any I've been to, a picnic in a park, shopping, and visiting one of the busiest places in the world.