Too many fish in the Tsukiji market, Not enough in the Ocean

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If one of the bullet points on your 2008 New Year’s resolution list read Take better care of my skin, I recommend that you grab a pen and paper and begin your thank you letter to me; read on and I will bare the secret. 

Possessing a fondness for food, communication and culture are the very reasons I have travelled through much of Asia. When the time was right to discover Japan, I vividly remember strolling down the vibrant streets of downtown Tokyo, not only noticing the monolithic, shiny architecture but I became fascinated by the flawless, blemish free complexion of the locals. Both sexes qualify for this compliment.

Suddenly my mission to explore Japan turned into a mission to uncover the secret behind maintaining naturally glowing skin.

Having dismissed the idea that physical exercise, consuming copious amounts or water and the use of magical beauty products are the logic behind the perfect complexion, which they are, I was a seeking a different answer.

We are all familiar with the saying you are what you eat, which is also a reflection of how you look in your skins.  A typical Japanese diet consists of fish, rice and vegetables. For the sake of this article let’s stick to the topic of fish.

Fish has a concentrated source of Omega-3 fatty acids which helps nourish your skin. Fish oil relieves dryness and itchiness. Omega-3 fatty acids also eliminate wrinkles. I cannot recall seeing a single, elderly Japanese woman with gray hair or crinkled skin during my visit. Therefore, consuming daily dosages of fish, (a single serving of 150 grams) is the modest Japanese answer to maintaining attractive looking skin.

Now, if you have kept a separate list of Things to do before I’m 99 with a point that reads “explore the ocean,” I suggest you venture to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Wholesale Market, one of the world’s largest fish and seafood markets. Having been there myself, I felt as if I had taken a personal tour through the ocean, but on land, considering every creepy crawler that prowls underground could be found at this very seafood emporium.

“Tsukiji reveals as much about Japanese culture as it does about Japanese cuisine” claims Theodore Bestor, Professor of Anthropology and Japanese Studies at Harvard University.

My friend and I arrived to Tsukiji subway station, central Tokyo at 5:30 a.m., this is when the market is open for bids. Assuming that the odor of fish would guide us to the right area; we were oddly surprised that there was no scent. I approached the nearby policeman who was enjoying his morning cigarette and attempted to make hand gestures that resembled a fish, so he could point us in the right direction. This act of embarrassment was completely unnecessary since it was 5:30 in the morning, we were two lost foreigners in Tokyo, Japan, where else would we be going? 

Rows and rows of trucks kept the market from being seen from the subway platform, yet we could hear the commotion from a close distance. We found ourselves in a maze of stalls, full of large quantities of fish and seafood, everything from squid to cuttlefish to conch to octopus. Some 450 kinds of fish are received; handling over 2,500 tons of product per day. Plenty of products were still very much alive and awake; Dominion grocery stores, are you sure you’re fresh obsessed?

We witnessed what appeared to be confusion and havoc from a tourist’s perspective, when realistically we were observing a functional and efficiently run gathering of buyers and sellers. The working men dressed in heavy duty rubber boots and raincoats, as were the throng of fish connoisseurs surfacing the area. Since the floor was wet and slippery fashionistas it’s best you leave your Jimmy Choo’s and Manolo’s in the closet, when visiting.

There was too much going on in this giant open warehouseon to stay focused on a single stall. In one corner merchandise sellers yelled out bids while Japanese chefs shouted out numbers. In another corner massive blue fin tunas, equivalent to the size of a small whale, were being slapped onto wooden cutting boards, ready to be filleted. Two by two, men unloaded and dragged frozen fishes into the specified stalls. Nonchalantly, seafood lovers strolled along the narrow lanes inspecting the fish of their choice. We realized we had somehow involuntarily became part of a dodge ball game, effort-fully maneuvering around the speedy motorized carts and scooters carrying crates of sea creatures, trying not to get in the way of serious business. Traffic between the cramped lanes was as clogged as the arteries of downtown Shanghai.

This was a splendid way to start to the day.

Heaps of energy and adrenaline pumped through the market, when the sun itself was not fully awake, at this time. Apparently, this energy continues till the early evening, six days a week. Sunday is a day of rest, even for the fish.

Now that my friend and I had a grasp on how the fast paced business of fish and seafood operated, we were ready to cultivate our palettes with some of the freshest seafood in the world.

We walked over to a petite, local sushi hut that bordered the Tsukiji market and ordered a variety of aquatic delights.

6:00 a.m. sushi breakfast, yummy!

The chef first positioned a banana leaf in front of us, which served as our plates; he then gracefully prepared pieces of sushi behind the visible glass barricade.  One by one, the chef placed the pieces on our leaves, along with miso soup and a hot cup of green tea. Smooth raw abalone, chewy red snapper, delicate white fish, buttery yellowtail, creamy tuna and soft shell crab on rice. The culinary master then presented us with the mother of all sushi rolls, the heavenly rainbow roll, a pinwheel of fresh, delicate layers of sashimi, rice and avocado.

Because of that experience, I have become a self proclaimed sushi snob, whom till this day, cannot judge  sushi, in GTA, without imagining  that glorious rainbow roll I adored in Tokyo.

Finishing off my breakfast with a piece of shrimp sushi was not, at all, the right choice, considering the little guy was still fidgeting on the stack of rice, when the chef placed it on my leaf. I waited while the squirmy sucker enjoyed its last few breathes before piercing into it.

Never again.

Beside the shrimp, the rest of my breakfast was fabulous. And it only cost me pocket change compared to the rest of the meals I devoured in Japan.  

Indeed the Japanese take pride in creating unique, artistic, quality foods, their specialty happens to be seafood. Nutritionists, dietitians and health specialists constantly highlight the high in protein, low in calories, low in sodium benefits of eating foods from the ocean.

As mentioned earlier fish does wonders for your skin and if that’s not reason enough to eat, or eat more of it, then you should simply do so because it’s brain food. Look a the Japanese; they are both rich and intelligent. The country as a whole holds the third largest free market economy in the world and in a decade or so; they may even be the most powerful country on the globe. Why, because they eat copious amounts of fish and seafood.  

I read an article in the New York Times, a few months back that spoke about the tuna shortage in Japan, which for Japan is a national crisis. “It’s like America running out of steak,” said Tadashi Yamagata, vice chairman of Japan’s national union of sushi chefs. “Sushi without tuna just would not be sushi.” The problem stems from the growing appetite of sushi and sashimi lovers from outside the country. Japan’s neighbours over in China have welcomed this food with open arms, contributing to its popularity, so much so, that the demand for sushi has gone up while the stocks have gone down. Having lived in China for a little over two years, I have tolerated the fact that the average foreign restaurant including the abundant amount of sushi eateries in Shanghai lack quality. Ironically, China is forking out top dollars for top quality tuna, which is something I, nor Japan, saw coming. No need to panic, the Tsukiji Market carries 449 other kinds of underwater goodies… while quantities last.

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~ by deliciousnoize on February 27, 2008.

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