29 June 2007

Sushi, the Breakfast of Champions

There is nothing quite like getting up at the crack of dawn and heading down to the massive warehouse-like structure that is the Tsukiji Fish Market. Creatures from the sea (live, dead and somewhere in between) are piled, stacked and laid out in foam boxes, some iced, others packed in sand, still others floating in buckets, the water turning rust with the slowly leaking blood.

Walking between stall after stall, through narrow alleys and lanes, dodging the rubber-booted men trudging cartloads of boxed and not-so-boxed fish, the stall owners tossing buckets of bloodied seawater on the floor, the occasional eel slithering along the ground, searching out a sewer drain or some exit to the sea, only to feel the wheels of the cart or the heel of the boot end its journey abruptly.

In the slightly wider lanes, the gas-powered carts shoot past, a never-ending stream of rhythmic engines, the metal bumpers rounded and worn from frequent use, the boxes of fish, creatures, and other assorted gifts from the sea bouncing around on the back. The occasional hand cart, bicycle or pedestrian weaves between the fast moving carts, risking wheel or leg to cross the raging stream of steel and find another relatively quiet row of fishmongers.

Lined along the floor are the massive frozen carcasses of Tuna, their heads thawing in nearby buckets, their fins and tails stripped away. A few are fresh, and these are being turned into the finest of sushi by men with knives and swords, lining up just the right cut and then carrying it out with a smooth motion and a flourish of steel for effect. The red flesh glistens in the dim glow of naked electric lights swinging above.

And then it is off to stand in line, waiting outside one of the more famous sushi restaurants, waiting to sit at the counter and spend some exorbitant sum for the freshest sushi of the morning. Once seated at the counter, the sushi pieces are handed over as they are made, placed on the lacquered shelf as much art as edible. Fatty tuna, snapper, sea urchin, squid, eel... The sushi chef laughs and smiles as he serves his creations, taking pleasure in our pleasure, adding a little extra here and there, keeping the wasabi off the kids’ portions.

And it is finally back out, into the dreary morning sky, a light mist and drizzle, walking off from the remnant of an older Tokyo to the bustling high-end fashion streets of Ginza.

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