Pilgrimage to Tsukiji Market

Monahan's Seafood Market | Fresh Whole Fish, Fillets, Shellfish, Recipes, Catering & Lunch Counter-Ann Arbor, Michigan

Japan- Tsukiji Market Finally, after 40 years in the fish business I had the opportunity to visit the mecca of seafood, the Tsukiji market! It’s the largest wholesale fish market in the world, in Tokyo, Japan. My brother, Tom, has been doing business in Asia for years and I’ve always wanted to join him on one of his trips to Japan. The timing to visit Tsukiji took on a new sense of urgency when I read the news that the market was being moved to a more modern location, 3 kilometers east to Toyosu in a matter of months. This was last October and I just had to experience this place before it went the way of the old Fulton Fish Market in New York, which was moved to Hunt’s Point in the Bronx in 2005. Fortunately, I visited the great old market in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge before it was gone forever.

I had to see Tsukiji as it’s been since 1935 before it was too late. The trip came together quickly on short notice and when my son, Carson, found out about it he said he’d love to join us and visit customers in Tokyo for his business, Fortune Goods, but also to have the trip of a lifetime with his ole dad and Unc T.Japan-

When we arrived in Tokyo Carson and I were amazed at how efficient, organized and clean everything was. Subways are always on time and the throngs of people would pack in like sardines. Everything is modern and super fashionable. I remember squeezing into the train and looking down I noticed that every shoe in sight had not a single smudge. Amazing!

Japan- Tsukiji Market Our first day we headed out to take in the sights, sounds, smells and flavors. Many restaurants and even entire areas specialize in one type of food or products and usually do it very well. There was one old traditional place operated by two sweet ladies that had to be in their 80’s that was famous for eel and loach. Loach is an eel like fish (I used to keep them as pets in my fish tank). We sat on the floor as the ladies prepared a fantastic dinner at the table for us and gave us gifts (packs of the best toothpicks you’ve ever seen) as we left.

We had so many great experiences. We came upon a huge flea market where I bought an antique wicker shopping basket and Carson found some antique textiles and old kimonos for his business. Tom’s old friend and customer, Shimogi san, entertained us in his restaurant/club, in a hallway in the subway, with a feast of traditional foods and an evening of karaoke with his English language club. What a great group and Tom always brings the house down singing Roy Orbison. We visited Kappabashi Street, the world’s largest assortment of restaurant and kitchen supply shops. They even had their own theme song that played in the streets while you shopped.

One area with crowded narrow streets was full of yakitori (grilled kabobs over wood fired hibachis) restaurants; many specialized in horumonyaki (special cuisine using offal). We enjoyed beef heart, kidneys, liver, and our first taste of uterus, chewy but tasty. Sanma, a long small fatty fish that we sell frozen at the market was in season so we enjoyed fresh sanma sashimi wherever we saw it. We also tried horse meat sashimi and even accidentally tried whale (Tom’s buddy didn’t tell us what it was until it was too late (it was rich and quite good). Whether a restaurant specialized in ramen, okomomiyaki, Berkshire pork tonkatsu or sushi and sashimi everything was the best we’d ever tasted.
Japan- Tsukiji Market Japan- Tsukiji Market

As incredible as our Tokyo adventure was so far, it was time to set the alarm for 4 am and take a taxi over to Tsukiji to catch the auction. We found out that it was only open to the public to a limited number of pre-sold ticket holders. I finagled our way in by showing my business card to a young guard. We got to see buyers checking core samples of giant Bluefin tuna for fat content, color and flavor before an older guard told us we had to leave. That was fine. We got to see the auction and then hit the outer market which was full of little stores and restaurants. People start lining up early for the super fresh sushi and sashimi. We found a crowded little place and enjoyed a 6 am breakfast of raw fish and beer. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Japan- Tsukiji Market Soon the auction was over and we were allowed into the inner market where the world’s biggest fish market was in full swing. The place was huge! As we walked over the wet ancient cobblestones dodging all the motorized carts buzzing around (you visit at your own risk) we were overwhelmed with an amazing array and variety of what seemed like every possible edible thing from the sea. It was incredible! Live eels and sea slugs, crazy looking trumpet fish with their long snouts, silvery slinky ribbonfish, beautiful live abalone along with Japan- Tsukiji Market- Fuguevery kind of clam and snail that you could imagine. We saw live Fugu (puffer fish, the fish that is treasured for sashimi but if not cleaned properly the toxins kill several people a year), live cuddle fish flashing colors in their box and many, many fish that we could not identify. We came upon three men filleting one fish, a team effort to break down a giant 300 lb. Bluefin tuna with a knife that looked like a samurai sword.

Japan- Tsukiji Market

Japan- Tsukiji Market

Our trip to Tsukiji was an educational, inspirational and delicious experience. The sheer quantity, variety and most of all freshness of fish left me wanting to get back home to apply some of that Japanese style of care, proper handling, attention to detail, beautiful presentation and overall professionalism of the wild world of Tsukiji market.

Japan- Tsukiji Market- UniThis weekend at our market we will be offering a nice selection of sashimi grade fish, including number 1 grade Spanish Ranched Bluefinjapan- shime saba tuna, Japanese yellowtail (Hamachi), salmon roe, live sea scallops (Hotate), fresh Maine sea urchin roe (Uni) and maybe a few more surprises. Check out some of our Japanese recipes and maybe try this great shime saba (pickled mackerel) recipe that’s based on a recipe from our friend and customer, Kengo Iwanaga.

Monahan's Seafood

2 Responses to “Pilgrimage to Tsukiji Market

  • Dan Moerman
    7 years ago

    “a 6 am breakfast of raw fish and beer. Life doesn’t get much better than that.” Well that’s one for the bucket list, that’s for sure. Sounds like a wonderful adventure!!

    • mm
      Monahan's Seafood
      7 years ago

      Thanks Dan! It sure was a great adventure. Definitely put that on your bucket list.

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