Weird blobs of half animal, half vegetables, deadly denizens of the deep, humungous silver flashing torpedos, creatures flapping, slithering, crawling and spouting. No, you are not at Ocean World, they do not have what this place has. You are in Tsukiji fish market, the seafood central of the world.
You probably did not sleep the night before just to leave your hotel room at 5am to get to the market. Cold, sleep deprived and probably nursing a raging hunger (And possibly a hangover), you go to the outer markets only to be greeted by 2 sushi shops lined with customers.
You walk around a bit more to check out other shops and the rest are either pathetically empty or filled with market workers. Slightly intimidated and thinking, “I friggin woke up so early, might as well go eat the most famous one…..besides, I am in Tokyo…”, you walk back and join the lines of tourists (Both Japanese and non-Japanese).
These two shops are named Daiwa Sushi or Sushidai. Check out the videos here.
This outfit is run by father and son who are probably conspiring to rule Tsukiji market’s sushi scene. They probably serve smashingly good sushi and sashimi but I would not know, as long queues of tourists usually send me running in the opposite direction. However, this also means you will probably not miss this shop as they are the only shops with human herding barriers. It would not be a personal choice, but for a tourist in Tokyo for the first time, you cannot do wrong by choosing to eat at either of these two places.
For the more adventurous or clueless, you can do what Gerry and I did and go for BYOS. Thats ‘Bring your own sashimi.’
It may seem daunting to try to speak to a fish seller to purchase fish, but if you are slightly looney like us and have no qualms looking like bumbling foreign fools, you can try buying directly from the market.
Our strategy was simple:
- Conduct reconnaissance of the whole market and make a mental note of what to buy
- Make sure the stuff you want to buy cannot be found at a sushi shop (More below..)
- Look for a market stall with a majority of the stuff you wanna buy
- Make sure the stall is not busy and the staff are friendly looking, twiddling their thumbs and do not have any knives nearby with which to stab you with
- Try not to piss anyone off
- Do not haggle with them on price
Be aware that as tourists, we are actually hindering these people from doing their work, so we want to try to make it as simple as possible for them to sell to us with minimal fuss. We were not exactly buying a shopping cart’s worth here.
Whilst you may be tempted to buy tuna, octopus, sea bass, etc….., I’d advice against it and go instead for the more unusual and weird like what we bought. We got Geoducks and sea pineapples. Had we seen the octopus eggs and stonefish at the same shop, we would’ve gotten them too.
Basically, it will be stupid to walk into a sushi shop carrying a small salmon and asking them to sashimi it up for you. More likely you will have your sashimi served up to you with a light schmearing of fugu poison.
The weirder the stuff, the more unlikely the sushi shop will have it and the more likely they will oblige you in preparing it, for a price of course.
With our prized catches in hand, we chose a sushi shop in a quiet corner that had just opened and had no customers at all. An empty shop will be less likely to turn down customers and their weird requests.
It will not take a rocket scientist to figure out your intentions when you point to Sea Pineapple and Geoduck and ask the chef “Sashimi OK?”
Of course that is not what we said, but they understood us perfectly and said, sen en OK? So, basically, for 1,000 yen, they prepared it for us.
Before we could even take nice pictures of our catch for this blog, the chef had sashimi prepared for us already. He was THAT quick.
I kinda get where the Sea Pineapple got its name, Sea Squirt, from. When Sea Pineapple met Knife, the slightest pressure applied on it made it squirt water out in a rather disturbing way.
It has been said that Hoya (Sea Pineapple) has a really strong fishy taste that is an acquired taste. I’d beg to differ that it is actually a textural thing, rather than a taste thing. The Hoya had a slimy texture (Not in a disgusting way, but some non-Asians may find it disturbing) that was soft, yet slightly crunchy and yielding to the teeth.
It tasted slightly of the sea, with a pleasant seafoody tone, not unlike that of super fresh oysters. However, I was taken aback by a ‘green’ taste in the background. It took several tastings to figure out that this taste was similar to watermelon’s rind. Ever eaten watermelon and your teeth gouged out a bit of the green rind along with the red flesh? It tasted just like that. Could it have been the cucumber slices? A quick lick confirmed that it was not that. Could this be the real taste of Hoya?
To the plain eye, this above would look like cuttlefish sashimi, but it is actually Geoduck. This was the ‘phallic’ end of the Geoduck, its comical looking, oversized siphon that is bound to bring giggles to disturbed minds.
Now, once we get past the innuendo and presumptions that eating this will ‘make a guy strong’, the Geoduck’s siphon is actually used to suck in plankton and pump out wastes. They dig down into the seabed and poke their siphons out to feed.
The sashimi was served with a citrusy ponzu sauce with a bit of chilli paste in place of wasabi. This boldly flavoured sauce covered the strong fishy taste of the Geoduck. Texturally, it was like cuttlefish, chewey yet short in texture. Tastewise, it was very strong, ‘gamey’ in a fishy kind of way. I guess fishiness is the word to describe it, but it is not the ‘bad fishiness’ we associate with seafood past its prime. Its just strong. This was not one of my favourite things to eat, but there’s always a first for everything
Unperturbed and with our curiosities piqued, my eyes wandered down their sushi showcase and found another delectable ‘in-season’ morsel of goodness.
My eyes fell upon the smooth, milky white mass of deliciousness. Shirako. Fish roe is highly prized in many cultures and for the Cod fish and Japanese, the female roe (Tarako) is not as highly prized as Shirako.
Yes, you guessed it, I had cod sperm in my mouth. This, hands down was the best thing that I ate in the past year, easily trumping Percebes and some unidentified weird textured reef fish local only to Alicante.
Silky smooth, meltingly tender more so than uni and with a creamy taste that escapes description. Not a hint of fish or seafood, just pure, unadulterated pleasure, with the chives, nori and sweet chilli sauce providing the perfect counterpoint, heightening the taste experience.
We ordered more of it.
This, for me, is Japanese food in a nutshell. Seasonal ingredients served simply yet still providing pleasures beyond expectations.
I have eaten Cod Sperm and I cannot get enough of it. There, I’ve said it. Laugh all you want, for those who have tasted the ‘light’, will be nodding in agreement that life will not be the same after tasting Shirako.