Tsukiji is the largest fish market in the world. It is there, in the narrow streets of Tokyo''s Tsukijishijo, where over 2000 tons of fresh fish coming from all over the world, are sold every day. The Japanese are great gourmets and the pickiest nation of the world, thus the fish that wants to be sold in the market, has to be of the highest quality. For it is only there where its price will top the price at which it was bought from the fisherman dozens of times.
Immediately after the fishing boat has arrived at a port, the Japanese buyers select their catch. And it does not matter whether these are the coasts of Canada or the surroundings of Boston. It is the ports of all over the world where the skilled testers separate the specimens which are a moment later loaded on a plane. Any other means of transport are too slow for the product to remain fresh. The fish reaches a Japanese table within, at the latest, 48 hours of being taken out of water, or it can only be eaten by other, less demanding nations of the world.
The shopping spree is initiated with a great auction that takes place at 5 a.m. on each working day of the week. The best joints of tuna fetch as much as ten thousand dollars, and the bidders are never short. Everything that has been sold at the auction goes to the market''s smaller stalls where the fish are portioned. Only then can the restaurants and anyone who visits the market buy them. All the creatures that, in the wild, can be found in the ocean are swimming in the smaller and larger boxes filled with water. From sharks and tuna and ending with sea turtles and octopuses. The agility with which the sellers prepare these sea creatures to be sold is really bloodcurdling. Just a few moves with a terribly sharp knife are enough to cut off all the tentacles of an octopus or cut a huge tuna in half. The principle is always the same - nothing can go to waste.
The buyers are observed by small eyes that are hidden in even smaller stalls next to the table with fish. These eyes run with incredible speed between the piles of cards and a calculator display. The managers, who are barely visible from behind the steering wheels of their managerial command quarters, are vigilant, and each sale finds its place in these cards. They are screaming something and getting more cards every now and then, and it is like that for many hours. Everything, however, according to the rule - to sell as much as possible and as quickly as possible.
The four hours of the morning trading completely clean the store shelves. There is nothing left, except for those goods which, despite careful selection, have not found a buyer. Wastes go into specially prepared trolleys. Great cleaning begins. Gallons of water are poured on the paving stones. It doesn''t matter whether someone is just passing by or not. There is no time for genteelness. The streets between the stalls are filled with small forklift operators who are improving their skills by moving between the stalls and the buyers with some superhuman precision without crushing anyone or anything. Huge blocks of ice are being taken out from the big trucks. They are about to protect the purchased fish before they go to the buyer. A few minutes later the atmosphere in the market resembles the one of an amusement park, except that here you can lose your life when falling under the truck filled with fish, hitting your head on the pavement after losing balance on the wet ground, or from the ubiquitously flying knives.
When the market is emptying, people move to the nearby shops and restaurants. The queues to tiny rooms set up really quickly and, to enter a few sushi bars, you need to wait for several dozen minutes. I enter after nearly an hour and a half and, although I''m sick and tired of waiting, I keep the good advice of the Japanese in mind that I must call in the bar for sushi. I''m really curious about what I''ll see and taste. During my stay on the island I had a variety of dishes. Some were better, others were worse. What I was served in this tiny (as it was several square meters) restaurant was a masterpiece of Japanese cuisine. The taste of the fish that was both freshly caught and prepared in the way they did it, cannot be compared with anything else. Although the local prices are more than twice as high as in most Japanese restaurants, the food is worth every yen. The fish simply melts in your mouth and the types of meals being served never end. You can taste dozens of species of fish and soups. After a few minutes, my common sense says “enough”. Greed and the fact that I will not come back soon, however, don''t let me get up from a high stool set perhaps 30 inches from the brilliant cook. Had it not been for the total lack of space to push another fish into my stomach, I would have never left that place.
On the way back, I was no more attracted to those fantastic mini chicks prepared at the stalls along the street. I remained indifferent when passing by more or less impressive sushi restaurants. I did not want to spoil the taste which did not repeat until the end of my stay in Japan. Although it has now been a good few weeks from my visit in Tsukiji, the memory of fresh fish will stay in my taste buds forever and I will recommend this place to all connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine.