Japanese culinary adventure: Tsukiji market & sushi-making class

A COOKING CLASS IS AN IDEAL way to explore local culture. Last fall we visited Tokyo and signed up for a sushi-making class, using fresh ingredients from a tour of the Tsukiji fish market, the world’s largest seafood market. Tsukiji also sells fresh fruit and vegetables.

We toured the “inner market,” where 900 licensed wholesale dealers operate small stalls and where the fish is cut, cleaned and sold on the spot. We also visited the fruit and vegetable stalls and the “outer market,” full of shops, sushi and noodle restaurants.

“It is the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum, the Great Pyramid of seafood,” writes Anthony Bourdain in A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal. “All that unbelievable bounty, spread across acres and acres of concrete, skittering and clawing from under piles of crushed ice, jockeyed around on fast-moving carts, the smell of limitless possibilities.”

More than $4 billion worth of seafood passes through the market annually. The world’s most expensive fish also is sold there. Tuna for sushi regularly sells for tens of thousands of dollars for a single fish. In 2013, the owner of a Japanese sushi restaurant chain paid $1.76 million for a bluefin tuna that weighed 489 pounds.

The market is busiest from 5- 8 a.m. We saw dozens of kinds of seafood, including tuna, unagi (eel), king crab, shrimp, clams, octopus, sea urchins, sardines, seaweed, imported Norwegian salmon and more. The fish monger’s knife-skills were remarkable, from using band saws for giant tuna to paring knives for unagi. During our visit, our guide gathered fish for our cooking class.

Though little has changed at Tsukiji in its 80 years, it is expected to be relocated as part of a modernization plan ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

After our tour of the Tsukiji market, we walked to the Tsukiji cooking school to prepare a meal with seafood, seaweed and vegetables from the market. Our menu included sushi rolls, temari-sushi (small ball-like sushi), grilled fish, Niku Dofu (simmered beef and tofu), and miso soup, prepared in a new kitchen.

Our instructor, Sachiko, spoke English and was informative and entertaining. After we prepared the dishes, we sat down to eat our feast. The trip to the Tsukiji market and the cooking class was a highlight of our weeklong trip to Japan.

Is Seaweed the New Kale?

Seaweed is ā€œset to explode thanks to its sustainability angle and umami appeal,ā€ referring to the Japanese word for the fifth basic taste, according to the 2016 Trend Forecast from the Specialty Food Association.

(Photo: Tsukiji Market by Uncornered Market)

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