A few weeks ago I woke up at the crack of dawn on a yucky rainy day with a single mission: to visit Tsukiji market and have the best sushi in the world. It was little before 9 a.m. when I finally arrived at the world’s biggest fish market. I decided to go straight to a tiny alley lined up with sushi-yas because the lines are notoriously long and I didn’t want to loose time. I did preliminary research and found out that there are a few popular sushi restaurants in Tsukiji among which Sushi-dai and Daiwa seem to rank the highest. Naturally I wanted to get into either of those, but guess what? By 9 a.m. there was a three-hour wait time AND they had stopped taking more customers. Boo!After browsing through other options and looking at my back-up list (yes, I and my type A self have back-up plans), I opted for Sushi Yamazaki located in-between Sushi-dai and Daiwa. Thankfully, I had to wait only 45 minutes until I was ushered in by a lovely Japanese lady inside a narrow 12-seat sushi-ya and seated at the counter. As soon as I saw the wide choice of the fresh seafood in the display box my taste buds were awaken in anticipation of the delicate morsels of freshest fish. Some bivalves like this abalone were still alive and moving! I was thrilled, excited and overwhelmed. After all, Tsukiji restaurants are renowned for its sushi and as a food enthusiast this seemed like a heaven for me. Yamazaki offers English menu and flexible choice. They have a few fixed sushi sets (okimari) and offer 11 piece omakase set (chef’s own choice of sushi that day). You can also order okonomi style, i.e. individual nigiri one piece at a time per your own choice; you will also see a board with today’s specials on the wall which serves as a good general recommendation. I loved how sushi was served on palm leaves. You meal is also accompanied with tasty miso soup and free refills of green tea. You feel welcomed and appreciated the moment you step in. Chefs make an effort to answer your questions, make recommendations and explain which nigiri they prepare for you. You are not rushed at any moment during the meal, a common complaint I often hear in regards to other sushi restaurants (including the world-famous Sukiyabashi Jiro!). I liked Yamazaki so much I decided to revisit it with Mr B and our friends. For my first visit I tried 12-piece Kiku set and second time I opted for 11-piece omakase meal. At the end I also chose to repeat a few of my favorite nigiri plus add a couple from “today’s special” to sample something new. Overall, each and every piece I devoured was outstanding, beautifully prepared, flavorful and so fresh it melt in my mouth. This is what Kiku set looked like:
1. Perfectly prepared and slightly sweet tamago (Japanese omelette). In fact, I like saving it as a last bite, to finish my meal on a sweet note.
2. Yellow tail which was buttery and delicious
5. Ark shell with a nice crunchy texture
6. Beautifully prepared squid flavored with yuzu zest
7. Special shrimp with sweet taste and melt in your mouth texture. My attitude toward shrimp nigiri has been forever altered. In the States all you get is dry flavorless slice, while here it’s served super fresh and is packed with flavor and pleasant taste.
8. Medium fatty chutoro
9. Ethereal toro, so fatty, so creamy, so delicious the taste lingered on in my mouth for a long time
10. Salmon roe
11. Grilled eels, one piece was flavored with salt and yuzu, and the other one with soy sauce. It was warm and totally delightfully.
12. Last but not least, heavenly uni: luscious, creamy, and sweet. Pure heaven.
In addition, I asked the chef to prepare salmon nigiri and three others that he recommended. How perfect is this salmon?
File fish, with mayo-based (?) sauce and a hint of onion. It was a revelation!
Bonito paired with chives and ginger. This was my least favorite of all due to a tad bitter taste of the fish.
Alfonsino, torched fish with amazing smokiness and zesty flavor from yuzu. It was so delectable, I ordered one more! One thing you should know before coming to Tokyo is that the quality of sushi here will spoil you forever. Mr. B and I were quite surprised how much sushi in Japan differs from that prepared and consumed in the West. Japanese cooking emphasizes simple and elegant preparations that highlight the unique flavor profiles of the ingredients – rather than the more Western technique of trying to elevate dishes with complex sauces. Thus, unlike the wide array of rolls filled with avocado, vegetables and topped with variety of toppings, sushi in Japan is most often enjoyed in the form of sashimi, nigiri and simple maki rolls. This allows you to appreciate the main ingredients – fish and rice – instead of hiding the flavors in rolls dripping with condiments and mixed vegetables. Unbelievably fresh fish will only be enhanced with a slight dab of wasabi, zest of yuzu, shredded radish, ginger, chives or touch of soy sauce and served on rice, allowing the natural flavors of the fish to be savored. Rice is as significant as fish in the art of sushi making and every respected restaurant has their own distinctive style of vinegared rice preparation. It is equally fascinating to observe the extraordinary technique, precision and artistry of the sushi masters while they are preparing your perfect pieces of nigiri. Sushi making is a sophisticated craft that requires years of training and an extraordinary knowledge of fish. A young sushi chef apprentice will only be allowed to touch fish after a few years of learning how to make rice. My omakase set included almost the same selection: tamago, squid, flounder, bonito, ark shell, medium fatty and fatty tuna, salmon roe, uni, eel. In addition, buttery amberjack…Now, when they say fish in Japan is fresh they mean it literally. At times it’s more than fresh, it’s alive. This prawn was placed in front of us before being turned into nigiri. Don’t even ask how I ate it, it was still literally twitching when they put the nigiri in front of me. The taste was delicious extraordinary (if I dare say so)! They also grilled its head for us, which had a weird texture as it was mostly shell.
I was quite full at this point and only ordered one more nigiri, Japanese cockle which was crunchy. I could have a breakfast like this every day of my life! Personally, I find it very hard to believe that the fish at the other two restaurants can be worth the additional three plus hour wait, when sushi here was amazing and considering they all get fish from the same source. I am still curious to try other sushi shops though once the weather gets better. Meanwhile, I would recommend Yamazaki without any reservations! Besides mind-blowing sushi breakfast, Tsukiji market restaurants offer great value for money. On average I paid $50 each time, whereas the same amount of sushi at dinnertime in Ginza would cost $200-$300.
Address: Tsukiji Market, 〒104-0045 Tokyo, Chuo, 築地５丁目２−１
Have you been to Tsukiji Market and gotten a chance to eat sushi breakfast? Which sushi-ya did you opt for?