On my last trip to Japan, I was fortunate enough to experience many off-the-beaten path gems, from visiting thatched-roof villages in Gokayama to strolling through one of the country’s most beautifully landscaped gardens in Kanazawa.
This time around, I had a couple of days in Tokyo – the country’s modern, bustling capital. While most of it was spent on a work-related assignment, our group managed to squeeze in time to visit a couple of places – many thanks to our guide Ken-san, who brought us to both popular attractions and little spots that only the locals would know.
After a morning work briefing at his office, Ken-san brought us to the site of the old Tsukiji Market. Many visitors to Tokyo would have visited (or at least heard) of the iconic Tsukiji Market, a sprawling wholesale seafood market located in the heart of the city. Opened in 1935, it replaced an even older market nearby called Nihonbashi, and was famous for its tuna auctions.
The market shuttered and moved its wholesale operations to the newer Toyosu Market, some two kilometres away, in October last year, citing better facilities and hygiene. The restaurants and shops outside Tsukiji, however, have remained – and they still get their seafood fresh from Toyosu (from the same wholesalers that were operating at Tsukiji) each morning.
One of the area’s most famous sushi restaurants, which has since moved to Toyosu (you gotta line up for 2-3 hours to get in) was called Sushi Dai. I was initially confused when looking up the name of the restaurant we dined at, because it sounded so similar, but have now confirmed that they’re not related. That is not to say that Tsukiji Sushidai Honkan is not worth a visit, because we found the sushi to be excellent. No long wait as well!
You know a place is good when it’s mostly locals. I think we were the only foreigners dining in during lunch time. The space was rather cramped (as it usually is with many Japanese restos), but cosy, with multiple floors. We settled into a corner and let Ken-san do the ordering while we sipped on green tea.
Our first platter of five nigiri sushi. I can’t even recall all of them (lol), but from second left, tuna, ika (squid), ebi (shrimp) and hotate (scallop). Needless to say, everything was very fresh, and the nigiri was expertly done with no flaky rice bits – just firm balls of rice covered by beautifully sliced fish and seafood.
Next, grilled anago (eel), ikura (salmon roe), kampachi (yellowtail), and maki rolls stuffed with sliced cucumber and tuna, plus sweet egg rolls. Don’t let their simple appearance fool you – the egg rolls are laborious to make and require much skill, as they have to be folded in a special pan with minute timing.
Ikura – glistening, briny bubbles that burst when you pop them in your mouth.
While I have not had the good fortune to try Sushi Dai (ie ‘the best sushi in Japan according to some travelers), I think this is a good alternative if you, like me, can’t stand queueing up for hours just to have a meal! Prices for the platters vary, from 1,000 yen to 2,000 yen depending on the number and variety of items.
TSUKIJI SUSHIDAI HONKAN
6-21-2, Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Business hours: 10.30AM – 4.00PM (Mon – Sat), 11AM – 10PM (Sun)