When we looked into flights for our trip to Thailand, it finally gave us the chance to stop in a place I have been dying to visit for years: Tokyo.
After a not-sleep-filled 14-hour flight, we landed in Tokyo and headed to our hotel, Park Hotel Tokyo. Hotels in Tokyo are actually well-priced considering it’s a major city—most options were much cheaper than New York or London. Our hotel was located in the Shimbashi area—kind of like Tokyo’s FiDi. We got a city view room that overlooked Tokyo bay.
Very jet lagged and just generally confused at finding our way around, we headed out in search of dinner. Luckily, the bustling 5th-Avenue-esque Ginza district was close by.
On a side street in Ginza we found Ore no Dashi, a small restaurant specializing in dashi, which is a broth or stock used in much of Japanese cooking.
Each dish was the size of a tapa—so you can order as much as you can eat! We started with crispy tofu and chicken meatballs in a light dashi.
Followed by something a little heartier—beef tendon.
Octopus sat in a pink broth.
Then angel-hair thin rice noodles.
Ending with a dashi-less dish of fried scallops.
Following dinner we collapsed into bed—waking up early to visit the source of Toyko’s sushi scene, Tsukiji Market.
Unsure of how to get around the market, we booked a tour through Japan Wonder Travel.
We wandered through the outer market, where stalls sell a variety of goods and foods—with all fish coming straight from the market.
Bonito is an extremely hard fish when dried–it’s also the base for broths like the dashi we had the night before.
Other surprising fact–the Japanese only became meat eaters ~100 years ago.
We stopped first at a stall selling tamago, or Japanese omelet. We tried a savory version, skewered on a stick for easy eating.
Little did we know—the line would be three times as deep when we passed it later.
We next stopped to taste the biggest oysters we’d ever seen (until the market…).
How we were supposed to swallow it whole I’ll never know—as you can imagine it was chewy.
At that same stand we spotted fresh, silky uni that we had to try.
We also stopped at shops selling nori sheets (the one Jiro goes to, apparently) and Japanese green tea.
We then headed inside to the produce market, where we saw real stalks of wasabi selling at an exorbitant price (most of what we have in the U.S. is dyed horseradish, as wasabi only grows in a very specific climate and very slowly).
Wandering out the side of the produce area we crossed into the real thing—the inner market.
Frenetic with carts moving every which way, vendors taking phone orders, money being counted, the best thing you can do is stay alert and out of their way!
Some of the best seafood in the world is in this market, with top-quality wares going out to some of the most famous chefs.
If you want to see the famous tuna auctions, you’ll need to get in line around 1 am—the auction itself is at 3 or 4 am. And beware—they don’t let everyone lined up in (we skipped this).
Back outside we tried some fried squid on a stick.
Washed down with some of the best sake we’ve tried. With our limited sake experience not exactly…classy…we were amazed how smooth it was. Tip: never drink hot sake. That means it’s bad.
The cedar boxes enhance the sake’s flavor.
The grand finale of the tour was sushi at a standing-only bar.
Don’t pass by these little joints—just because they don’t have the lines of Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi (two of the more popular spots closer to the market) doesn’t mean they aren’t as good. The fish comes directly from the market and the chef prepares the rolls right there for you. This was my favorite sushi of the trip by far.
Sushi eating tip: never get the rice in the soy sauce. Brush it on with the ginger or tilt it sideways.
The sushi was so cheap we got some extra.
Even though this tour is a bit pricey, I’d say it’s well worth it. If we went back, we could certainly wander the market ourselves but our guide pointed out some of the best shops, allowed us to taste some of the best food (outside of what came with the tour, she procured other samples for us as well), and explained so much about not just the market but other Japanese cooking traditions. It’s great for first-timers.
Up next…we wander a park, see some of the crazier parts of Tokyo, and eat some made-to-order tempura.