One of the most memorable experiences of my first visit to Japan was visiting the fish market in Tsujuki. It was a big warehouse where all the day’s catch would be brought in to be chopped up and sold to the local markets and restaurants. It was a crazy experience of fishermen and butchers working in harmony with buyers who were looking for the perfect fillet of spicy tuna. It smelled a little of fish, but it was an experience that always stuck with me. Recently, this old market shut down and moved off to a new location. It was a big event that was talked about in all of the newspapers around the world because Tsujuki was one of the oldest and largest fish markets in the world. It could be destructive to this iconic part of Tokyo, but the restaurants and shops that established themselves over the years were not going to let the place shut down that quietly.
There are still three blocks of merchants that get up early every morning to open up their shops and welcome the crowds that make their way down there. The shrine on the corner of the market is still visited by these same people to give out a quick prayer before they set off for the day. And more importantly the crowds of people still come down to this place to snap pictures and enjoy the food that is here.
The smell of fresh fish still lingers in this corner of the city even though the buyers have left it behind, but there are still numerous sushi restaurants that open their doors at 5:00 in the morning to serve breakfast, and the old statues are still hanging from the buildings. It is not only fish that they sell here either. There are many stores that offer fresh coffee, tea or ice cream. Vendors also bring in fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as all of the appliances needed in order to make the meals you want with all the fresh food that you just bought. Of course, there are the shops that sell the silly tourist things like t-shirts and trinkets, but that is not the main focus of this place.
It is all about the food, and some of the best bites that this place has to offer are prepared on the street. They will make egg on a stick, thin slices of Kobe beef, and various types of fish of course. My favorite was the fresh snow crab that was fried in oil, and then put on a big pat of butter before smothered in soy sauce before it was all glazed right in front of me. It was served with a little bit of Dijon mustard, and would have been considered gourmet anywhere else in the world. But here it is just street food. It is this grounded feeling that this neighborhood has that makes sure that it will always last even though the fish market has moved to another part of the city.