Friday, May 13, 2016

Tsujiki Fish Market and Sushi Dai

At 3am, I woke up wide awake.  Jet lag! Ugh!  Why hasn’t science fixed you?! But figured, I might as well head to the Tsujiki fish market to see the fresh fish being unloaded from the boats and catch a glimpse of the famous tuna auction!

SO at 3am, I walked through my neighborhood to the subway which all guides seemed to promise was open 24 hours.  It’s not.  They were wrong.  But I found a taxi guy and managed to finagle a ride to the market for $30.  (It should have been $60 but every time the driver tried to let me out of the cab I kept pointing, silently and urgently ahead until my google maps told me I arrived.)

It was dark in the fish market but men were already there unloading their trucks with fresh fish and setting up their shops.  As I made my way to the arena for the giant tuna auction, I saw groups of white people walking away dejectedly.  When I got there I was told that they had sold out of tickets at 2:30!  Earlier than any guidebook had said possible.  I stuck a 2,000 yen fresh note ($20) in between my fingers and saddled up to the guard. 

“Sir, my friend is in there and she is waiting for me.”   I casually laid the money by his hand. 

“No sorry, tickets sold out.”

Drats! That would have totally worked in Africa!

“But sir, my sister is getting married in there!”

“Please leave now.”

With nothing else to do at 3:30am, I decided to head to Sushi Dai a sushi restaurant in the heart of the fish market and the proclaimed best sushi in the world.  The fish was unloaded from the boat and straight into the back of the restaurant where the chefs take great care to tamper with the fish as little as possible before serving.  The freshest in the world.  Already there was a snaking line.  The restaurant opened at 5am and there was already about 30 people in front of me.  And the restaurant seats 12 at a time. 

Oh well, still wide awake with nothing else to do, I settled in and made friends with the group behind me.  6 fortysomething native New Yorkers.  It did not surprise me that the New Yorkers were where the good food was.  We took turns holding our place and exploring the market place, going to the bathroom, getting coffee, and purchasing delicious tamago (sweet egg) on a stick. 


It was fun being so still.  As a tourist, you’re always rushing trying to see the next thing but missing everything along the way.  The line had me watch the sun rise over Tsukiji market and almost get hit (several times) by men whizzing by on their trolleys, cigarette lit in their mouths.  The air was so laden with fish you could taste it. 

The sun rose and the non foodies, noodies if you will, started to meander into the market.  They often came up to our line.

“What’s this line for, brah?”


“Oh sweet, how long have you been waiting for?”

“3 hours.  We’ve been here since 4.”

“Whaaaaa.  That’s insane!”

We smiled at their naivity.  They don’t know what it’s like to truly want something.  To wait for it.  To yearn for it.  Noodies. 

Meanwhile, I’m on the phone with my mother who is salivating cathartically.  She read the reviews over the phone to me. 

“Try the fatty tuna, I hear it’s out of this world.  OH I’m so JEALOUS.”

When it was my turn, I was waved in.  The benefit of being a solo traveler, I ate a full hour before the group behind me.  It was 7:30 am. 

I was sat at a long counter with 11 other chosen ones.  Behind the bar was thick slabs of glistening fresh fish and 3 chef masters. I was given a ceramic cup of thick green tea and a hot towel.  I patted my face, readying myself.  First course was a seafood miso soup.  Fresh large clams and pieces of fish made the already salty miso taste like you were drinking the ocean.

Miso Soup

Next course was a cube of sweet egg tamago.  With a consistency of an omlette but sweetened with sugar and soy sauce, it was exactly what I needed to ready my palette this early in the morning.


The sushi was placed directly on the counter in front of us.  The chef used a brush to glaze the fish with a hint of soy sauce and a dab of wasabi so it was ready to pop right into our mouths.  

The first sushi was the fatty tuna, the most popular sushi in the restaurant.  It was the best thing I’ve ever tasted.  So buttery and supple you barely had to chew, it melted in your mouth.  It was sunshine.

Fatty Tuna

A large pile of freshest ginger was available for a chew in between pieces to cleanse the palette.

Next was the snapper.  It had more of a bite to it than the tuna and almost had a citrus taste.   I took to closing my eyes when I put the sushi in my mouth.


Then the chef put down a piece of sushi that was moving.  The  clam on top of the rice wiggled as if saying hello.  I put in into my mouth and I could feel it wriggling against my tongue.  It was creepy.  Definitely more of a struggle to get down than the grasshoppers in Uganda.

I ate red snapper.  I turned to my friends behind me still waiting just outside the restaurant, faces pressed against the window.  “It’s amazing,” I mouthed, and they cheered and high fived each other.

Red Snapper

The sea urchin was so flavorful, fishy and salty and almost meaty.  But the slimyness threw me off a bit. 

Sea Urchin

Then came the Spanish Mackerel or Sawara.  Sushi Dai you clever bastard, you had me reeling.  I Daid and went to heaven.  It was plump and flavorful and smooth.  Subtly fishy.  It took me there.

Spanish Mackerel

We finished the meal up with tuna, horse mackerel, tuna and cod egg maki, and sea eel.  When the chef asked me what I liked best, I said the fatty tuna.  And he gave me another piece!


Horse Mackerel
Sea Eel

Tuna and Cod Eggs

I bowed to the master chefs and left.  Now 9am, the fish market was packed with fish and tourists and restaurant owners.  I was full and sleepy and walked around the market like a fatty tuna. 

I rolled myself back to the apartment and took a nap. I had tickets to see Sumo wrestling!
Thursday, May 12, 2016

First Day in Tokyo: Harajuku!

It’s Sunday!  The day the Japanese Harajuku girls come out to play in their platform shoes and rainbow hair and glitter makeup!  I’ve been obsessed with the Harajuku for years.  See vintage picture of me, 10 years ago: 17, dressed up as a Harajuku girl for Halloween.

I scooched on down to the Harajuku district and took a walk on the famous Takeshita street.  Everything was pink and smiley.  There was surround sound giggles.  The girls wore two main styles.  The innocent: lace bib shirt, tulle skirt, soft pink, barretes.  And the wild: 6 inch platforms, teal hair in pigtails, candy necklaces.  I crushed it in jeans and a tshirt.

Because I wanted to be supersaturated with sweetness, I went to the pompompurin café.  Pompompurin is one of the many famous Sanrio characters in Japan.  Hello Kitty’s cousin or something.  I ordered this cute little pompompurin cup of pudding with a chocolate beret hat.  I asked the old man next to me if I could take a picture of his pompompurin rice.  He obliged.

Just as I was leaving the district I saw what I thought  was a parade of Harajuku girls.  But no!  It was the Tokyo Pride parade!  I joined them for awhile, shouted for gay rights a little, took a few videos, and then took a nap.

At dusk, I went to the top of the Mori art museum and saw all of Tokyo from 52 stories high.  It was magic.  Made even more magic by the limited time only Sailor moon exhibit. 

For dinner I stuffed my face with fresh, delicious sushi and jetlagged home.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I Made it to Tokyo

I wasn’t sure how I was going to get from the airport to my Airbnb in Tokyo.  

I booked the my ticket to Japan 6 months ago in a rush of “when again am I going to have the time and money and no ties (no boyfriendbabyapartment…oi) to travel to Tokyo on my own?”  I’ve wanted to go to Japan ever since when in the third grade, my mom and I started an extracurricular research project on Japan and the bullet train. nerds.

Loopy and jetlagged from 24 hours of travel, I wandered around the airport until I figured out a thing and got my body on a bus to Tokyo.  The bus spit me out in Shinjuku district which looks like an arcade game threw up on Times Square.  I wondered around the streets dragging my suitcase, big haired and squinty eyed, letting the lights lead me in circles.  

After I calmed down, my other senses picked up and I started to smell all of counter top Ramen restaurants.  I came to Japan to explore the culture and history yadda yadda but I really came to eat.  So at 10pm I dragged my suitcase into one of these Ramen restaurants.  I was confronted by a machine with lights and Japanese.  I stood there looking at the machine, like a zombie, until someone came over to help me.  They pointed at a picture menu with numbers corresponding with the buttons.  You press a button, put in the money, and it spits out a ticket that you give to the counter.  

5 minutes later I was eating a bowl of salty ramen with soba noodles and shrimp tempura.  I sat at my little seat facing the counter and let the ramen tell me it was time for bed.

I still had to find my apartment.  I found a taxi and the door opened magically on its own!  After many nervous pointing and “arigatos” we found our way to the apartment.  I figured out all the tricks to getting in, facetimed my mommies, and collapsed into bed.  But not before going to the bathroom where the toilet played trickling waterfall music and the seat warmed and different buttons did surprising things with water and hot air.