Well I did my best the first morning by arriving at the Tsukiji Fish Market at 5 AM to be in line for the first-come-first-served admission to the tuna auctions. Unfortunately it was all booked out, and you have to get there before 3:30 am to reserve a spot! That’s just not going to happen being there are no trains running at that hour. Instead I chose to go today and browse the open market at a more reasonable hour.
I arrived at 9 am, and found the place absolutely packed. Oh yeah, it’s Saturday… A bit discouraged, but I carried on. I made my way through the crowds at the main entrance and instantly knew I was going to like this place…
The employees were super friendly and spoke some English, so I asked them to recommend me a “Santoku”, which is a type of knife around 7 to 8 inches, with a very slight bevel to the blade. It is, in my opinion the most versatile knife in the kitchen. I browsed a number of extremely expensive hand forged knives (one cost nearly $1800!), but being on a budget I settled for a nice carbon steel model which was only about $100. The employees took great care in wrapping it in 5 layers of newspaper, cardboard and bubble wrap, and told me very explicitly “Check-in luggage! Check-in luggage!” haha, thanks guys!
Leaving the knife shop with a beaming smile on my face, I entered into the cramped and bustling corridors of the market. It was an assault on the senses, but the one thing I did not smell whatsoever was fish. Yeah this place is fresh!
The first shop to catch my eye was selling Tamagoyaki (卵焼き), which is a sort of fried egg on speed.
It’s made by folding dozens of paper thin layers of fried egg over one another to create a sort of egg cake. It is typically flavored with sugar and rice vinegar. Every version I have tried before has been way too sweet, but this…. this was amazing! super tender and a perfect balance of sweet and acid from the vinegar.
I continued to politely shuffle and shove my way through the packed crowds in the narrow alleyways. I was offered a sample of some strange form of seaweed I had never seen before. I’m pretty sure it’s rude to refuse anything offered to you in Japan, but that doesn’t matter as I was going to eat it anyway. It was interesting, and very hard to describe, squidlike in texture with a melting finish, sounds horrible, but I assure you it was amazing. I ended up buying some dried seaweed as a gift for friends in Thailand. Thai people can’t get enough of the stuff!
I turned a corner and saw this huge decapitated tuna head on display, and a master butcher doing his dance. Unfortunately he had already filleted the majority of the meat from the carcass, so I didn’t get to observe the true handiwork.
I was getting hungry after sampling all these new and amazing foods. Of course I was planning on eating sushi here, it’s the freshest sushi in the world! All I needed was a promising looking restaurant. To be honest I had no idea what I was doing, so I did what any confused tourist would do, I looked at the pictures!
I was ushered in and blasted by the Sushi chefs yelling “Irasshaimase” or “Welcome” in unison. It was so loud I was actually shocked and just stood there for a minute before bowing half-assedly and going to my seat, pretty sure they’re used to that haha! I opened the menu and was relieved to see English, I was also relieved to see the prices were not astronomical. I browsed the menu and spent a good amount of time observing the chefs in action. The deftness with which they form the sushi is amazing. here’s a short video I took to give you an idea.
Knowing this was going to be a once in a lifetime event, I ordered one of the most expensive sushi platters.
From left to right top row: Uni (sea urchin roe), Salmon Roe, Tamagoyaki, Tiger Prawn, Unagi (grilled eel with sweet soy)
Bottom row: Maguro (lean tuna), Otoro (fatty tuna, the best!), Toro (medium fatty tuna), Squid, Clam (I think?), and Mackerel.
I’ll just leave this one to the imagination, because I’ll never accurately describe the relish with which I consumed these recently alive fish. I’m pretty sure my knees were trembling. I walked out in a sort of blissful haze, not quite able to make sense of the commotion surrounding me.
Everything after that lacked a certain luster, and I decided I had seen enough for the morning. I needed some decompression time, so I headed back to my favorite little coffin in the sky.
Gyoza originated in China, and are often eaten around the New Year as a means to bring prosperity. Due to the fact that gyoza resembled gold ingots to the ancient Chinese, the Chinese word for gyoza ( jiǎozi 饺子) sounds similar to the Chinese word for the earliest paper money. During New Years celebrations, the cook will often insert a coin into one of the gyozas, bestowing good luck upon whoever receives it (or broken fillings!).
Gyoza have spread from China to much of Western Asia. Growing up in Nepal, gyoza (or “momo” in Nepali) was one of my favorite dishes. I remember returning to Nepal at the age of thirteen, and being treated to a Momo feast by a close family friend. I ate about 20 of them and became seriously ill, unable to move for a number of hours. This was not because of unclean or badly prepared food, I simply ate so many my body went into shutdown mode. Well I’m glad to say I stopped myself yesterday before that happened, but just barely!
This particular restaurant was near Akihabara Electric Town, which is the world’s most outrageous electronics and hobby mall (more on that in an upcoming post). In typical Japanese style, it had a mouthwatering display of all it’s dishes in a window out front.
Of course the display is 100% plastic! They really have gotten this art down to a science as many of the displays are absolutely indistinguishable from the genuine article.
The particular Gyoza I ordered had a pork, garlic and scallion filling flavored with Shoyu (light soy) and vinegar. They must have been delicious because I ate all twelve (!) of them and the sides which included fried chicken, rice, and a clear pork broth.
While gyoza are rather easy to make at home, they are best left to the professionals, as hand-forming the individual dumplings is labor intensive and time consuming (anyone who has tried will tell you that to correctly fold and seal them takes much practice and nimble fingers).
After a short 4 hours sleep, and an unfruitful 5 am trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market (the tuna auction was already booked out!), I wandered the streets until I found a promising looking Ramen shop. I was definitely looking forward to trying the authentic version of what is often panned as bachelor chow in the West. Being breakfast there were only 4 choices available.
I chose Kake Soba (掛け蕎麦), which is freshly cut soba, or buckwheat noodles, in a delicious pork broth. This particular version was topped with thin tempura vegetables, and chopped scallions. The side dish is thin egg wrapped around vinegared rice, which was a bit sweet for my tastes, but still very good.
Needless to say this put any version of Ramen I’ve had in America to shame, and at around 3 dollars is a great bargain.
After an amazing flight on which I got all 3 seats to myself, and slept the entire way, I arrived in Tokyo bleary eyed but full of energy. Navigating the train lines was like deciphering heiroglyphics, and at one point I thought I had made a grave mistake, and gotten on the wrong train. Thankfully, I arrived at my station, and walked out into a crisp night in a very uncrowded part of Tokyo. Next goal was to locate my hotel which was, according to my directions, directly on top of the subway station I had just emerged from. Cue me walking around the block about 6 times, trying to find it. I ended up walking into another Capsule Hotel and was told it was directly across the street.
Welcome to the Asakusa Riverside Capsule Hotel.
Upon checking in I was supplied with a pair of slippers, and told to go upstairs to my capsule. I was a bit apprehensive about sleeping in something that resembled a coffin, but the capsules are actually surprisingly spacious, and at around $27 a night can’t be beat in terms of value
The Hallway somewhat resembles a morgue, down to the pistachio green color scheme.
After getting my things sorted I went for a short walk around the area, which is surprisingly nice, and being Japan, almost creepily clean and well kept.
I made sure to get a Kebab from the Kebab guy that did his best to help me when I was lost. Not necessarily authentic Japanese, but delicious nonetheless.
Well I must say I am already fascinated by the alien nature of Tokyo, and am looking forward to getting to the Tsukiji Fish Market around 5 am tomorrow. For now it’s off to my capsule for a short nights sleep.
Just click the right arrow below to see my travel itinerary, step-by-step. Will be updated whenever my plans change.
Hello and thanks for finding my little corner of the web. My name is Jesse Rockwell. I am a California based photographer with an insatiable appetite for travel and good food. I spent a number of years cooking in kitchens everywhere from Utah to Northern California, including some time in Michelin Starred locations.
I’ve decided that food is best left to eating, and now spend my time devloping my photography skills by attempting to create unique and interesting techniques that bring about the patterns created by both man and nature. My photography has been featured by CNN, The BBC, and online at places such as The Phoblographer and IFL Science.
Have a look around, tell me what you think! Comments are always appreciated!
The Journey commences from my hometown of Santa Barbara, California with a two hour drive south to Los Angeles. I’ll be completely honest and say that Los Angeles is one of my least favorite places on Earth, for a variety of reasons not worth exploring here. Thankfully, I only have to spend a short time in the airport before flying out to Tokyo where The Journey will truly begin!