4:30am: It was strange to see the normally crowded and hectic streets of Tokyo so empty as I rode through the city at four in the morning, but the bright and colourful lights still flashed, illuminating the midnight sky. My aunt was taking me to the famous Tsukiji Fish market in Japan where the best sushi chefs bid for the highest quality maguro, or tuna fish, almost every day bright and early in the morning. The sun creeped up as the car got closer to the market, and it spread its beautiful orange and pink hues across the horizon.
The sound of bustling men and moving carts surrounded me, tourists lined the wooden walls of the popular sushi restaurants, and the pungent scent of salt water and seafood wafted through the air—we had arrived.
5am: My aunt’s friend, who is a fisherman and sushi store owner, handed us bright orange pinnies and led us through the back door to where the auction was about to begin. My heart thumped with excitement. People lined up for hours just to see the auction from afar, but I was lucky enough to be right in the center of the chaotic, rhythmic flow of the world-renowned Tsukiji auction.
Men dressed in blue suits and boots stood on small stools with their pens and paper in hand, calling out each fish in an almost melodic pattern.The large tuna fish were lying on their sides, mouth gaping, eyes large and staring blankly up at the high ceilings. Old and young men were examining the color and fat distribution of the fish’s red flesh. They could tell how it would taste with one look and one touch. The perfect fish is crucial for delicious nigiri and sashimi.
6:45am: After watching the fresh tuna auction and then the frozen tuna auction, we decided to go taste the delicious fresh fish we saw being fought over just minutes before. We squeezed behind a counter in a room only a little bigger than my dorm room (and I’m in Speakman in Ware), and asked the chef what he recommends for this time of year. I ordered some scallop, hamachi, sour plum and perilla leaf rolls, charred fresh water eel, sea urchin, some silver-skinned fish, smoother white-fleshed fish, sweet egg, and of course the prized red tuna.
This was definitely a meal worth waking up at 4 am for.
by Jennifer E. Higa