Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sushi Excursion

For an interesting twist on sushi and an all-around great read, check out this article in the recent issue of Vanity Fair: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/06/sushi200706

I finally put off rising at the ungodly hour of anything before 8am (except when I am working, of course) to make my way to the Tsukiji fish market http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm. It is apparently the world's largest, and conveniently situated only 20 minutes walking distance from the Ginza area. Since I recommended it to so many of my guests, I decided to set myself straight, too, and head off in search of massive tuna and other exotic seafood delights.

At first glance, the area where Tsukiji is located appears to be nothing more than a mass of narrow streets lined with hole-in-the-wall sushi stalls, sushi knife sellers, vegetable and fruit stands, and a few good luck and other misc. goods nooks. However, after further navigation, I came across the first section of the large warehouse which houses the agricultural goods to be auctioned each day. It doesn't really appear to have a central entrance, so I maneuver through the stacks of boxes and trucks and small motorized vehicles, as incognito as a white, female, tourist can be. Once inside, there are row upon row of boxed vegetables and fruits and flowers all awaiting their time to be auctioned off. Little old men, and not so little or old men, even a few women, scurry about sorting and moving boxes. This is interesting, but not what I really came for.

I safely cross yet another thoroughfare of motorized vehicles and stacks of styrofoam crates and enter the realm of fish. Fish is putting is lightly. This is the place to locate, at wholesale, the world's finest seafood delights. Tuna is what the auction is known for, but each aisle is stocked with an array of fish, guts, shells, heads, tails, and numerous unidentifiable other things that seem to be in demand enough to warrant a lot of them being sold under this roof.

The fresh tuna auction is closed to the public, but public is all you find on the side lines of the frozen tuna auction. I first came across the "tuna on display" side. There were no fences, no cones, no signs that I could read telling me not to enter, so I cautiously stepped around the massive frozen tuna that were lined up on the cement floor. Each was labelled with a number and was waiting for transport to it's new owner among the stalls. Adjacent to these now "off the market" fish, the auction was still taking place. Beyond a few pylons which cordoned the buyers from us gawkers, two auctions were taking place. The auctioneer in front of me was waving his hand and bobbing up and down as he sang off the numbers, none of which I could make out. He would slow down as the final bid rolled in, then move on to the next tuna at hand. The prospective buyers paced in front of the tuna and periodically inspected one from the tail end with a flashlight. This is the only way they have of checking the quality of the frozen flesh so there is actually quite a lot at stake when it comes to determining whether the tuna is worthy of it's rating. Check out my homemade vid below.

After one of the old guys passed by me with a smile and gave me the eye, I felt good about what I had seen and secretly proud that I had successfully remained out of the way of the workers and their motorized fish transporters. Despite the attraction to tourists, these gents, and even a few ladies, are at Tsukiji six days a week from 2am to noon to do their job. A typical visit to the fish market is followed by a grand sushi spread at a well-known stall; however, after all the flesh and guts that I just perused, and maybe a bit due to the early hour, I just couldn't stomach the idea of raw fish and miso soup. Back to the hotel I went where I had bacon, eggs, and coffee, then slipped back under my covers for a few more hours of sleep.

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