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Sushi July 12, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sushi” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sushi

When people talk about Japanese food, they almost always talk about sushi.  Sushi is the most recognized food from Japan, but it isn’t the most popular food.  It is traditionally eaten only on special occasions.  To think that people in Japan would eat it every day, or even every week is a very strange concept to Japanese people.  They might eat it when people visit, or to celebrate a special occasion.  That’s not to say that you can’t find sushi and sashimi everywhere.  They key to making sushi isn’t within the fish itself.  The rice is the most important ingredient, in my opinion.  When you visit North American sushi restaurants, you can find a few good ones with good rice, but the majority have terrible rice.  It either has a strong taste of vinegar, or there is no taste at all.  It can be too wet, or too dry.  In the worst case, they use the wrong type of rice!  Sushi must be made with the proper Japanese rice.  Without it, the sushi won’t hold together, or it will be too wet.  Then, you have to mix the proper ingredients to make it taste better.  Once that is done, you can start to make sushi.  Getting this done right is extremely difficult, and even for the typical Japanese person, it’s nearly impossible to get right all the time.  It can be so difficult, that it’s definitely more common to see Japanese people head to the shops to get their sushi.

The second major misconception about sushi is that there are rolls.  If you visit a typical sushi restaurant, you will rarely see any rolls of any type.  The typical kappa (cucumber) and possibly negitoro (ground up tuna) rolls are possible, but not very common.  The key, when eating sushi, is to look more for the varieties of fish.  Tuna itself has three cuts that provide a very different and distinct flavour.  There is Hon-maguro, Chu-toro, and O-toro.  O-toro is the fattiest part of the tuna, where hon-maguro is the meatiest.  Which you prefer will depend on your own personal tastes.  I prefer Hon-maguro, but O-toro is the most expensive as it has the texture of butter.  You will be able to see various specials where the fish may or may not be cooked, and you can also see meat on sushi.  Unfortunately, if you cannot speak Japanese, or if you can’t read Japanese, you will have a tough time finding the specials.  If you visit one of the major restaurants, they may have English menus, but if they don’t, just point and ask, or just order something and hope it tastes good.  It’s the only way to see if you’ll like it or not.

When going out to eat sushi, you can eat in three major styles.  There is the typical restaurant that sells sushi.  These can usually be found on the top floors of the department stores.  They tend to be a little expensive, but they do have all you can eat.  The quality is pretty good and it will be fairly tourist friendly.  There are small shops located around many other cities, but these shops can be a little intimidating to enter.  The second most popular way to eat, and the best for tourists, is the kaiten sushi.  This is the conveyor belt sushi.  Basically, the sushi chefs will make a bunch of sushi, put it on the belt, and you can pick and choose to your delight until you are full.  Do note that if you do visit one of these shops, you will more than likely miss out on a lot if you don’t order from the chefs themselves.  It’s very simple to ask for something, but since there are no menus in English, it can be very difficult.  You can always point to something and ask for it that way.  Do beware that the quality of the sushi at these shops can vary wildly.  One shop can be delicious, while another isn’t.  If they advertise for 105 Yen per dish, it’s probably not very good.  If they have various trays that are colour coded to the price, then you will get decent to good sushi.  The final way to get sushi is to go to a standing sushi bar.  These shops are not foreigner friendly as they people who usually visit these shops are businessmen and business women looking for a quick light meal before they go home.  It’s almost always order from the menu, which is rarely in English, if at all.  It’s isn’t comfortable either as there are no seats.

Finally, you can have a sushi donburi.  This is a type of cross between sushi and non-sushi.  Basically, you will get your raw fish on a bowl of rice.  I personally find this to be another dish that should be tried.  You can either get a simple donburi, or you can get one that is very complex.  The simplest ones have nothing but one type of fish, but the better ones have three to 8 types of seafood on rice.  Typical toppings include tuna, ground tuna, squid, and fish eggs.  While this can change depending on the shop, it is still a delicious meal and recommended to anyone and everyone.  This is also very cheap.  A typical donburi will start around 500 Yen and increase up to 2000 Yen.  Do be aware that the quality will depend on which shop you go to, and where it is located.  The best place for this type of sushi is to head to the stalls outside Tsukiji.  They tend to be the best overall, and they aren’t very intimidating.  Just point to what you want and you’ll get a great meal.

Kaiten Sushi Video:


Sushi Information:

Sushi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sushi
Sushi FAQ (There is a lot of good information on all things Sushi).  Probably the only place to visit:  http://www.sushifaq.com/

Sushi Restaurants [Note that all sites are in Japanese]:

Foo Moo by Hot Pepper:  http://www.hotpepper.jp/CSP/psh020/doFree?SA=SA11&GR=G004&SK=4&FSF=1&FWT=寿司
Gournavi:  http://sp.gnavi.co.jp/search/theme/z-AREA110/t-SPG110100/p-1/s-new/c-1/



Tsukiji December 15, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tsukiji” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-tsukiji

Tsukiji is one of the most well known places in Tokyo, if not Japan.  There is only one thing to do while in Tsukiji, visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.  In reality, when you head there, you can’t really do anything else.  The area itself is very small and there isn’t much else to do but look around.  If you venture in on your own, you can expect to spend at most, one hour walking around.  It’s unlikely that you will want to spend an entire day, and unless you are a chef or restaurant owner.

The fish market itself is located fairly close to the station.  If taking the Tokyo Metro subways, the Hibiya line’s Tsukiji Station is the closest.  However, it isn’t the closest station to the market.  For that, head on the Toei Oedo line and get off at Tsukijishijo Station, which literally means, Tsukiji Fish Market Station.  From there, follow the signs and you’ll be right outside the fish market.  Finding your way in is one of the most difficult things to do.  It looks like a large mess of trucks going in and out of the market.  There is no specific passenger entrance and everything looks chaotic.  Take your chances and just walk in from any entrance.  There are various places around the market itself to take photos, but do remember that flash photography is frowned upon inside the market.  If you are looking for a guided tour, there are various people who offer tours, but by and far the best looking one is by Naoto Nakamura (link below) who takes you on a two hour tour of the fish market starting at 4am.  This is great on the first day of your trip, especially if you are jet lagged.  You’ll be able to visit the various auctions and also see many of the middlemen selling their foods. Do note that due to many tourists abusing their privileges, the market was closed at the end of 2008, till early 2009 to tourists.  While this was localized to only the auctions, it was still sad to hear about this.  It is now completely open to the public, aside from restricted areas, and you can freely watch the auctions.  See the information in the links below for more information.

As mentioned, the entire fish market feels chaotic.  You MUST be careful.  There are a lot of sites with information on what to wear and how to be prepared.  It is necessary to read them, but the basic run down is this:  wear shoes you don’t care about, and no high heels or sandals; don’t dress too stylishly; no flash photography, especially in the auction areas; and look out for any and all moving vehicles.  While the market is open to the public, everyone should be reminded that the market itself is still a place of business.

Many of the men on the dollies are racing to get the fish from one end of the market to another, or even outside the market.  If you step in front of them, they will not stop.  It’s important that you don’t block the street, and finding out where the street is can be a challenge in and of itself.  Some areas are clearly marked, but others aren’t.  Thankfully, most of the dollies and trucks are gas powered, so it’s easy to hear them, however, even in the middle men market area, the trucks can appear out of nowhere.

Inside the market, there are several shops selling sushi, sashimi, donburi, and various kitchen tools.  It can be easy to miss, but it’s nice to just walk around a little.  The shops tend to be slightly overpriced, and busy.  If you go on the weekend, there could be a long line-up.  I would recommend waiting until you leave to eat any sushi.  Just outside the north side of Tsukiji Market is a small shopping area with various sushi restaurants.  This area itself is reasonable and you can get a lot of good food that’s on par with other shops inside the market.  If you looking to buy sushi and take it home, or to your hotel for a late morning breakfast, the middlemen inside are more than happy to sell a large amount of fish to you.  Do note that the days after the holidays can be the best to get the freshest fish, and the days before the holidays can be the cheapest as they have to sell everything.  Buying fish should be done after 6am, especially if the auction is held until around 6am.  Usually, I found arriving around 8am is a good time.  You can check out all the food, although a lot has already been sold, and you can still get a good breakfast after all the regular workers have eaten and headed to work.

In the last several years, there has been talk of moving the Tsukiji Fish Market from its current location to a location closer to Odaiba.  There have been lots of vocal people protesting against this.  While it’s true that a move will likely destroy the history and atmosphere of the current Fish Market, it feels almost inevitable due to the government wanting a more controlled setting for the fish market itself.  Moving it would allow things to be modernized and flow smoothly.  Plus, the current plot of land is worth a lot more as residential and commercial buildings than as a fish market, regardless of being a tourist attraction.  I myself am indifferent, but as a tourist, I would want it to stay in the current location.  As a worker inside the fish market, I would probably want it to stay as well.  In fact, the move has been delayed indefinitely as the future site is contaminated with various toxic materials.  For those who were worried about missing this fish market in the near future, don’t worry too much.  It will be several years yet before they move.

Tsukiji Information:

Tsukiji Fish Market (Official Site – English):  http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm
Tsukiji Fish Market (Official Site – Japanese):  http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/index.html
Tsukiji Fish Market (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3021.html
Tsukiji Fish Market (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukiji_fish_market
Tsukiji Fish Market Tours (By Naoto Nakamura):  http://homepage3.nifty.com/tokyoworks/TsukijiTour/TsukijiTourEng.htm
Tsukiji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukiji
Tsukiji (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Tsukiji


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