Japan’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the seasons and geography. Seafood plays an important role in diet, and Tsukiji fish market, the world’s largest, is the center of seafood in Tokyo. The market is divided into two sections—the wholesale inner market and the retail outer market. On the inside, the smell of fish hangs in the air as fishmongers in rubber boots hold the iconic pre-dawn tuna auctions. Outside is a labyrinth of shops selling everything from seafood and dried snacks to unique kitchen tools and wasabi in its raw form. The bustling, narrow walkways are filled with the sounds of business and chatter as locals buy up the freshest catches. During our three-hour Tsukiji outer market tour, we’ll visit a bevy of these stalls to further our discussion on Japanese food culture past and present and how being an island affects this.
Tsukiji district was built from land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay; tsukiji translates to “reclaimed land.” To see what the area looked like before the market was built in 1935, we’ll start our walk at an exhibition of historical woodblock prints and of photographs of the market’s famous tuna auctions. We’ll then begin our market visit, starting off at handful of small shops that sell restaurant-quality kitchen supplies like hand-forged knives. Exploring the many kitchen tools on offer, our docent will explain how different items are used to create some of the dishes we’ll see later in the tour.Japanese food really plays to the senses. As we eat in restaurants and graze at stalls throughout our time together, we’ll see how impeccably presented meals are, from a hearty selection of humble rice balls to delicate sashimi. The dishes not only taste superb but are aesthetically pleasing. During our walk, we’ll sample a variety of key ingredients, from pickled things (tsukemono) to ingredients for authentic miso soup broth. Pickling plays an important role in Japanese cuisine because it allows seasonal foods to be preserved for consumption throughout the year. Tsukemono are served with almost every meal, with cucumbers and daikon being the most common. At Tsukiji, we’ll see a rainbow of pickled produce, from eggplant to Japanese plums (ume).
For our sit-down lunch, we may go for raw fish served over bowls of rice (kaisendon), or tempura, curry, or sushi, depending on preferences. We’ll continue eating our way through the outer market, where we may make stops for tamagoyaki, the rolled, slightly sweet omelet, pomegranate vinegar, meat dumplings, and gluten in assorted forms. We’ll wrap up on a sweet note, with a Tsukiji-only twist on the traditional taiyaki, fish-shaped cakes made of crispy pancake batter and filled with red bean paste, with or without a tangy apricot center.
After a delicious walk through Tsukiji outer market, we’ll leave with all five senses satisfied and with a better understanding of the influences on Japanese cuisine.