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Sunday, Jan. 13, 2002

Tsukiji fish market: As fresh as it gets

Japan Times food columnist

As you would expect, there are plenty of fish restaurants in Tsukiji, both inside the wholesale market and also in the narrow streets that surround it. The rows of simple, hole-in-the-wall eateries in the very heart of the market cater primarily to the early-rising market workers who are already finishing their lunch by the time the rest of Tokyo is still digesting breakfast. But most are happy to cater to casual visitors, providing you know what you want and don't hang around too long.

How to find the best places? Just look for the lines outside.

Daiwa-zushi is small, cramped and simple in the extreme, but the quality of the fish is superb, the prices are good and the service is never anything but friendly. Cognoscenti of prime seafood make regular pilgrimages here from all over town. It's become so popular it's had to expand next door (it now holds 20 people instead of 10).

Just ask the master for the 3,500 yen omakase tasting menu, and he will give you whatever is freshest. If you want to make a full lunch of it, ask for sashimi first (and a flask of their basic atsukan hot sake to wash it down). But remember, they close at 1:30 p.m.

The narrow streets on the market's periphery also provide many good options. Sushizanmai, the biggest and brightest of them all, stays open round-the-clock every day. All prices are published, so there are no unpleasant surprises; quality is never poor, but it's several grades down from the likes of Daiwa -- think average kaitenzushi, but with all your sushi made to order.

Closer toward Ginza, you find Edogin, one of Tokyo's sushi institutions. It too has expanded mightily over the years, thanks in large part to its generous portions. Of its five premises, the most upmarket is the new Kaiseki branch. But the most accessible is the spacious Shinkan ("new annex"), a veritable gastrodome of sushi, complete with a central fish tank from which you pick out the fish of your choice -- it will likely arrive at your table sliced but still quivering and gasping its last.

One of the delicacies of winter, fugu (puffer fish) is the specialty of Tentake, just across Harumi-dori from the central fish market. Tentake prides itself on its supply of ocean-caught tora-fugu, the most sought-after (and also potentially the deadliest) species of puffer. The restaurant is large and rather impersonal, but prices are as good as anywhere in town, with basic full-course meals starting from 5,900 yen, and tora-fugu about 25 percent more expensive.

Daiwa-zushi, Chuo Shijo Bldg. No. 6, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku; tel: (03) 3547-6807. Open 5:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sushizanmai, 4-11-9 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku; tel: (03) 3541-1117; also 4-10-6 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku; tel: (03) 5148-3737. Open 24 hours a day. Edogin Shinkan, 4-4-8 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku; tel: (03) 3543-4402. Open 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Tentake, 6-16-6 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku; tel: (03) 3541-3883. Open daily (except the New Year holiday) 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.

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