Friday, June 24, 2005

Tsukiji Cart Racing

Ever since my first visit to Japan back in October, I’ve wanted to get to see the famous fish market; Tsukiji. The hours of business (5am to 9am) have mostly precluded any visits. We were fortunate that a recent world cup qualifier (Japan vs. Bahrain) ran until 3am. A quick detour for Karaoke in Roppongi meant that we arrived at the market at about 6am … the sacrifices we make for our food!

The central wholesale market is the largest in Japan. It is a market for all food related products; fish, fruit, vegetables and kitchen utensils, but it is most famous for its fish. It is located in central Tokyo. It is one of the world’s largest and handles over 2,000 tons of fish everyday. Note: there seems to be some debate as to the largest in the world, we have given the award to Tsukiji. Fish comes off trawlers directly to the market and is sold out to the restaurants for the day’s dining.

Admittedly the timing may not have been best to capture the full culinary delights of the market. Nevertheless the alcohol in our veins made the adventure suitably surreal. A warning on the Japan guide website states that it “is a site where serious business is conducted, it is important for visitors not to interfere with the action by not bringing any large bags and not obstructing traffic along the narrow lanes”. The sight of 4 karaoke revellers weaving through the narrow lanes and dodging the trucks was probably not the most welcome to the local tradesmen. It was a good job that we didn’t read this prior to our trip. Being forewarned would have inevitably meant that we would have been far more likely to be injured.

Trucks at Tsukiji – courtesy of japan-guide. I would have taken a photo myself, but for the rush that I was in to safety.

We spent some time moving from stall to stall. I managed to buy a Japanese mandolin (the slicing kind) and tacky sushi teacup … you know, the typical drunken purchases you make a large fish markets. Taya had her photo taken with a bear while Taro and Matt played chicken with the Tsukiji carts. The trip reads like a hallucinogenic fantasy. The carts are fantastic; alone worth the visit. There is a junction in the middle of the market where all the local tradesmen seem to congregate in order to race each other. There are no traffic lights. Crossing this junction on foot feels like walking in between burning oil cans being wielded by demented tramps … with 2,000 tons of fish on their backs.

The revelation of the trip was the tuna. Although we didn’t get to see the tuna market (it is off bounds for tourists at this time of the year – thank god!). We did manage to see into the cargo-in bay from a safe distance. Blue Fin Tuna will grow to approximately 6 ft (2 m) and weigh about 300 lb (135 kg). It can live up to 40 years, but is mature at 8. They can be found in both the Atlantic and Pacific in waters as deep as 3000 feet. The can swim at up to 45 mph, meaning that they could cross the Atlantic in 60 days. The meat is prized and can sell for as much as $30,000 for a large fish.

Frozen tuna being slides – courtesy of Wikipedia.

There are many interesting facts about tuna (courtesy of wikipedia). It is one of the few fish that is warm blooded. Most fish are cold blooded and as assume the temperature of the water surrounding. This gives them very little range in terms of their ability to travel. Tuna has a higher oxygen carrying ability than any other fish species. As a result, the flesh of tuna is pink (unlike most white flesh ocean fish). Bluefin can use muscle activity to actually increase their body temperature above the surrounding waters.

We had what is rumoured to be the best sushi in Tokyo; breakfast at the market. For 600 Yen I had fantastic tuna steak with tea. At this point we were all beginning to feel a little worse for wear by the end and decided to leave at about 8am.

The parting shot – leaving the market with shopping and heads in our hands. This is the only photo we managed to take (at least that I'm allowed show) ...

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