A Morning Out, Tokyo Style

The day begins at 3:45 with Eric handing me a packaged 7-Eleven espresso. A quick splash of water to the face, and the three of us stumble out into Tokyo’s early morning mist. We hail a taxi to take us to Sushi Dai, a popular breakfast place near Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. Sushi for breakfast? Yes, it was Eric’s idea. I’ll know to thank him later, but in the meantime I’m still rubbing the sleep from my eyes and the meter is up around $50. The streets seem strangely empty but it’s no wonder, really. Getting up this early is downright unnatural.

The cabbie drops us at the far side of the market so we wander around a bit before finding the restaurant, meeting an Australian named Cameron along the way. When we arrive the line is already wrapped around the block.

Why, you ask, would people wake up before dawn for dinner food?

[ptcPhoto filename=”DaiLine.jpg” title=”Dai Line” caption=”We’ll be here a while.” position=”right”]

Because Sushi Dai offers an affordable omakase (chef-chosen) meal consisting of the best and freshest fish. They serve fish from the auctions held at dawn each day, perhaps the best fish in the world. So we stand and wait with all the other people who can appreciate a good meal. The restaurant can only seat twelve people at a time, so we wait for over three hours.

All this waiting does give me some time to test out our new macro lens in the nearby market stalls.

[ptcPhoto filename=”MacroGrapes.jpg” title=”Grapes” caption=”Fresh grapes in the market” position=”center”]

We finally get up to the front of the line, and our spirits lift a bit.

[ptcPhoto filename=”AlmostThere.jpg” title=”At the entrance” caption=”Almost there!” position=”center”]

Once inside, we take a seat at the sushi bar and began our culinary journey. The chef places each piece of nigiri on the bar itself next to a little pile of ginger. With each bite he gives us a description and instructions: Either “no soy” or “soy”.

This horse mackerel is particularly photogenic.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Mackarel.jpg” title=”Mackarel” caption=”But only for a moment, and then I eat it.” position=”center”]

Throughout the meal, the people still enduring the wait peek inside to see what’s taking us so long.

[ptcPhoto filename=”WaitingPeople.jpg” title=”Waiting” caption=”You will be handsomely rewarded, my friends.” position=”center”]

Even if I’m still a little grumpy about getting up so early, Sushi Dai breakfast is the freshest sushi we’ve ever had. In terms of omakase, it’s a steal at only ¥3900 ($39) each.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Uni.jpg” title=”Uni” caption=”A lovely piece of uni (sea urchin)” position=”center”]

The hungry people by the door breathe a sigh of relief as we trundle our bloated bellies out of the restaurant. It’s time to burn off our breakfast by exploring the busiest fish market in the world.

As far as fish markets go, Tsukiji tops them all. About five million pounds of seafood find their way through the market every day. This is eleven times the volume of New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, the largest fish market in North America. In terms of dollars, that comes to about $28 million worth of fish! The early morning fish auctions are so popular with tourists that they’ve started limiting the number of people who can visit to 120 a day. It was never meant to be a tourist attraction, after all.

Even so, the proper etiquette for visiting is clearly displayed at the main entrance.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Tsukiji.jpg” title=”Tsukiji Entrance” caption=”Noooo!!!” position=”center”]

It looks like tourists have behaved pretty badly in the past.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SamuraiSword.jpg” title=”Samurai Sword” caption='”Hey dude, let me hold it!”‘ position=”center”]

Once inside we find a frenzy of sea creatures as trucks speed past in every direction. We leap out of the way so we don’t lose our toes and slide around on the slick fish-watery pavement. These guys are working and aren’t slowing down for Looky-Lous.

[ptcPhoto filename=”FishFillet.jpg” title=”Fish Fillet” caption='”Wow! Looks just like a samurai sword!”‘ position=”center”]

Our death-defying meandering takes us through row after row of colorful seafood, and we gain some insight on how the fishmongers do their business.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TsukijiOctopus.jpg” title=”Octopus” caption=”Fresh octopus” position=”center”]

After a while Jelmini pretends he’s fishmonger himself.

[ptcPhoto filename=”JelminiBigFish.jpg” title=”Big Catch” caption=”Watch out for the guns.” position=”center”]

After filleting his imaginary catch, he also delivers it.

[ptcPhoto filename=”JelminiCart.jpg” title=”Fish cart” caption=”Jelmini’s new wheels” position=”center”]

A quick visit to the hotel to wash the fish off my feet (sandals were a poor choice), and it’s time for an evening out with friends – stay tuned for part numero dos!

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