Monday, August 26, 2013

Sushi Dai at Tsukiji Market Tokyo

The guidebooks tell you to get to Tsukiji fish market early.  What they don't tell you is to watch out for motorized carts whizzing past you from all directions at breakneck speeds.  So, step carefully when you go, but if you are in Tokyo, by all means - go.  
While we struck out trying to find the tuna auction - too intimidated by the traffic and chaos of the warehouse, we struck gold in the  market area when we chose to eat at Sushi Dai.
At about 7:20, I decided it was worth it to wait in one of the long lines for sushi breakfast.  My daughter had no choice but to follow suit.  
And then, we met the Canadians behind us, a father and teenage daughter from Toronto who would feel like old friends three hours later.  
The sun rises early in Tokyo, so by 7 am, it's as high as full noon back in New York, and it is merciless.  The Japanese custom of bringing umbrellas out in sunny weather made perfect sense to me now, as I felt the UV rays penetrating my wimpy Irish skin.  My daughter and I took turns exploring the shaded side alleyways of the market and bought three cold drinks during the wait.  She wasn't pleased, and wanted to bail.  So did the Canadian dad.  But the Canadian daughter and I wanted this experience.  Maybe waiting for the sushi place with the longest line makes you feel like you're accomplishing a great feat. Like climbing the mountain to meet the oracle. Or, in the words of Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own "it's the hard that makes it great." Actually, it's the fish that makes it great. The freshest sushi in the world. When we were in the final stretch of the very slow moving line, a petite Japanese woman with a small notepad stepped out to take our order - she offered us the 2900 yen meal and we upgraded to 3900 for both of us. Eighty dollars worth of the world's best sushi - bring it!
When it was finally our turn, we stepped into the tiny restaurant, where diners sat,  elbows touching, an L shaped counter with 12 small stools.  There were three sushi chefs behind a glass window of fresh fish. The reddest tuna I'd ever seen was behind the glass in front of where I sat.
"Where you from?" ask the chef closest to us. "New Jersey," I replied. "Ah, New Jersey, it's close to New York." "Yes," I nodded smiling.  "PGA is near there." "Oh, the golf, yes."  He smiled and nodded, all the while scooping warm rice and shaping it with his fingers, adding a smear of wasabi and placing a generous slice of fish on it.  Laying it onto the counter shelf in front of me, he pronounced: "Red snapper."  Thus began our sushi feast - "Horse mackerel."  My daughter and I exchange glances and dug in, using our chopsticks to shove pieces of raw fish as long as a finger into our mouths.  Next came glistening tuna, a luscious slice of spanish mackerel, fresh salmon roe that burst in our mouths as we bit them - "This is really good," declared my daughter munching on fish eggs.  The chef informs us, "These are fresh, most are frozen."  We nod and chew.  I tell him my daughter likes to draw Manga. He's delighted, "Which one?" I see she is too shy to speak up, so I offer, "Pokemon." He laughs heartily, "Oh Pokemon!"  We laugh, too.  He slaps a decapitated squid and puts it on rice, its tentacles curl back up as it sits in front of us.  Nothing is too weird for us to eat, and we pop it into our mouth, followed by creamy yellow sea urchin sushi.  Sea eel comes out, which has a surprisingly firm and unslimey texture "Tastes like chicken," my daughter decides - I don't concur, but it doesn't taste like the fish we've had so far. 
My daughter is getting full as tuna and cucumber sushi rolls are placed in front of us. It's no problem, as I can carry on for both of us.  The other diners who came in with us have finished, but with our upgrade, we get two more. I ask about a type of shrimp, and the second chef down pulls it up with legs and head still on - it's large and looks delicious and I nod.  A minute later, the raw shrimp is in front of my, its soft
body tastes clean and delicious on top of the warm rice with a small dip in soy sauce - which by the way, we are barely using. The fish tastes so fresh and clean and we appreciate it unadorned for the most part.  My daughter gets to chose a last piece, but she hands that honor over to me and I chose a final fatty tuna - a wonderful thick slice of rich fish.  And,  just like that, the best sushi meal of our life was over, and we were once again out in the hot Tokyo streets.