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Tsukiji – A Beginner’s Guide

If you visit Tokyo, your trip can’t be considered complete if you haven’t been to Tsukiji at least once. It’s the backbone of Tokyo’s entire seafood scene and one of the most popular tourist spots because of its value for money seafood and their early morning tuna auctions. The auctions are quite the spectacle but for gluttons like myself, the food is more aligned with my interests.

The first time I went to Tsukiji, I had no plan and I didn’t know what to expect. I just waltzed in there and basically ate as I explored, food entered my stomach on a first come first serve basis. That was a pretty big mistake to make, I quickly over indulged on street food and didn’t really have the appetite to bother with actual meals. It wasn’t until my next few visits that I realized how much I had missed. To be honest a lot more could go wrong if you are unprepared, particularly if you don’t check Tsukiji’s schedule.

Tsukiji Calendar

If you plan to go to Tsukiji, you should really check the Tsukiji market calendar on their website in advance. Nothing worse than rocking up to No Man’s market. The calendar can be found here: http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/calendar/2018/

A general rule of thumb is they rest on Wednesdays, Sundays and public holidays. On workdays, restaurants take breaks between 15:00 and 17:00. Shops also close quite early so it’s better to go in the morning.

Sushi Restaurants

When you arrive at the fish market you’re going to be flooded by all sorts of street food. I’d recommend eating at a restaurant first before doing any snacking. It’s a bit pricier than your snacks but sushi is the best in Japan, and Tsukiji is where you’ll get most bang for buck.

Edomabushi-Don @ Aozora Sandaime Honten (青空三代目本店)

Edomabushi-Don @ Aozora Sandaime Honten (青空三代目本店)

Picking the right restaurant might be quite difficult though. Despite having the same source of fish, some shops have better selections as well as superior chefs. It’s easy to get persuaded by the eager sales people or follow the crowd. Sadly, I’ve noticed that popularity isn’t a testament to their quality, in most cases the subtle restaurants are just as good if not better.

Aburi O-Toro Sushi @ Aozora Sandaime Honten (青空三代目本店)

Aburi O-Toro Sushi @ Aozora Sandaime Honten (青空三代目本店)

If you want a suggestion, then you can try Aozora Sandaime Honten (青空三代目本店) and their subsidiary shop Aozora Sandaime Hafu (青空三代目). Out of the 10 odd shops I’ve been to, these two are my favorite. Although the two stores share the same name, the menu is quite different. In my opinion Aozora Sandaime Honten (青空三代目本店), the main store, is a bit more refined. Whilst the subsidiary store is more casual. If you’re after a more luxurious meal then go to Aozora Sandaime Honten (青空三代目本店).

Tsukiji Saikyo-Don (5 Types of Aburi) @ Aozora Sandaime Hafu (青空三代目)

Tsukiji Saikyo-Don (5 Types of Aburi) @ Aozora Sandaime Hafu (青空三代目)

All the photos used in this article so far are from both shops. If raw or seared fish isn’t you’re cup of tea however then you can try tempura.

Tempura (天ぷら)

For those who don’t know, Tempura is a popular Japanese dish that usually involves deep frying seafood and vegetables in batter. It’s one of those dishes that have plenty of cheap imitations across the globe, hence prices of such meals can vary significantly from 1000 to 20000yen per person depending on the restaurant you go to.

Tsuki Course @ Tempura Kurokawa (天ぷら黒川)

Tsuki Course @ Tempura Kurokawa (天ぷら黒川)

Great tempura is actually very difficult to find at the fish market. In fact, the only option I’d vouch for is Tempura Kurokawa (黒川) which is about a minute walk away from central Tsukiji, hidden in an inconspicuous alleyway. It’s hidden so well, you wouldn’t believe a shop existed there.

Tsuki Course @ Tempura Kurokawa (天ぷら黒川)

Tsuki Course @ Tempura Kurokawa (天ぷら黒川)

To be honest, Kurokawa is my favorite tempura restaurant in Tokyo because they serve high quality tempura at a very modest price. Every time I visit I like to order their set course called Tsuki. It’s basically a tempura tasting menu that includes a variety of seafood, vegetables, rice bowl as well as dessert.

Tempura Ice-cream @ Tempura Kurokawa (天ぷら黒川)

Tempura Ice-cream @ Tempura Kurokawa (天ぷら黒川)

My favorite dish is the dessert, they serve tempura ice-cream which is in my opinion unique to their store. It’s crispy and hot on the outside, while the ice-cream on the inside remains cold. Frankly speaking I haven’t found anything quite like this anywhere else.

Street Food

If you still fancy eating street food, then there’s quite a lot you can try. However, there’s only two things that me and my friends eat every visit and that would be sea urchin buns and tamagoyaki.

Hamadashoten (浜田商店)

Hamadashoten (浜田商店)

Some people love sea urchin, but I’m not one of them. I honestly don’t understand the fuss, but multiple friends swear by this sea urchin bun, so I thought it’s worth mentioning. As I personally don’t know how to appreciate sea urchin, I’ll refrain from commenting on the taste.

Sea Urchin Bun @ Hamadashoten (浜田商店)

Sea Urchin Bun @ Hamadashoten (浜田商店)

The shop in the pictures is called Hamada Shoten (浜田商店) it’s a bit hard to find but it’s on one of the corners of Tsukiji and to my knowledge it’s the only shop at the fish market that sells this bun.

As for Tamagoyaki it’s one of the first things you will see when you enter Tsukiji and not something you’d normally associate with a fish market since it’s made of eggs. Most sushi restaurants across the globe serve Tamago sushi so you might think it’s the same thing without the rice, except it’s an entirely different level of existence.

Tamagayaki @ Marutake (丸武)

Tamagayaki @ Marutake (丸武)

Tamago means egg and yaki means grilled, so it’s direct translation is grilled egg. The descriptions a bit underwhelming but it’s delicious. I have this every time I visit Tsukiji, and I’m always tempted to buy seconds. The only thing that stops me from doing so is the fact that eggs are way too filling.

You will find both sweet and savory versions of Tamagoyaki, but if you prefer yours with a tint of sweetness like me, then I recommend trying Marutake (丸武).

At the end of the day, your trip is yours to plan. I’d recommend doing some research using multiple sources to prevent any upsets. Local reviews are usually the most authentic and reliable. If you like to rely on tripadvisor for reviews you could try using a local source like tabelog instead. The only downside is you’ll need to use a translator as everything is written in Japanese. In this regard google translate should be able to help.

Hope this article was helpful to you, happy adventures.

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