It is just as hard to imagine a Japanese who doesn’t eat fish as to picture a Scott who doesn’t drink whiskey. OUTLOOK journalist Elena Rasenko will tell you about a unique place where successors of samurai purchase fine seafood for their tables.
Takagi-san woke me and my cameraman Sasha at about 3 a.m. A can of a cold drink, rice cookie and sleepy us were getting into a car of a Japanese to head towards Pacific Ocean. It was chilly, the sky was overcast; the road to Tsukiji Wholesale Market was awaiting us. It is a unique place where world-famous tuna auction gets under way every day, even before sunrise. Tuna is for sale both fresh and frozen, in portions and of one piece. Fish is sold here to be transferred to best restaurants of Japan, companies that produce food products and large retail chains.
However Tsukiji is not famous for this alone: daily over two tonsof all seafood kinds that a person can only get in global ocean, is bought and sold here. Daily commodity turnover at Tsukiji constitutes about three billion yen (about 36 million dollars). About 60 persons are employed at the market. So it turns out to be some sort of small town where everything is fresh and relatively cheap. Truth be told, entrance to Tsukiji isn’t that cheap. Takagi-san paid for me and Sahsa and although he was modestly covering the money with his hand I noticed that our trip cost a hospitable Japanese some fifty or sixty thousand yen (about 6000 hryvnyas). That’s how our fish day began.
There was a labyrinth of counters. And a feverish fuss. Salesmen , buyers and carriers were scurrying before everybody else’s eyes every single moment, they were moving in a rhythm of their own that looked like a techno dance. It is really hard to maneuver among them. Sasha and I were eyeing each other now and again not to get lost as well as we were looking around not to get under wheels of trucks and trolleys. We came to a full-up dock where fish and shellfish were being packed.
Our eyes first rested on exotic snakes that were still moving beneath overwrapping, then stumbled over on octopus rings and crustaceans covered in cracked ice, kept coming across lobsters, shells and scallops.
Everyone was shouting loudly, cutting something, cleaning and eviscerating, weighing, packing, laughing and offering a try. “But half of goods here are still alive!” – I exclaimed on seeing a head being cut off a still flapping fish that resembled a sturgeon. “Indeed, - winked Takagi-san proudly. – On the upside, here everything is fresh and helminthes-free”, – the Japanese added. I held on to Sasha’s jacket firmly. He gave me a push forward. We were being late for the launch of tuna trading session.
There weren’t that many traders. It all resembled an exchange with own dealers, brokers and jobbers. They were walking fussily among carcasses and screaming their bids. Some were approaching a fish to start singing. Louder and louder. Nearby another salesman would start with lower tones to try and ‘outsing’ the first one while offering own goods. Buyers were crowding and shouting bids. A bell would ring and a bloodcurdling shriek “Sold!” would sound victoriously. And everything would start over again. Every leviathan tuna sold here cost at least ten to fifteen thousand dollars. It depended on size and age of a sea animal.
Fishes were being sold like hotcakes. Excited by the spectacle and ruckus of people around I felt like taking a master shot but the whole dock, where the auction was taking place, wouldn’t fit into a picture. I climbed empty trays that were standing by my side. One of them tilted traitorously and I fell on a yellowfin tuna someone had just purchased.
In merely fifteen minutes everything was sold out. Buyers, pleased with their purchases, were carrying their acquisitions in various directions, trolleys were heading away and salesmen got silent. Sunwasrising. We felt like grabbing a bite. Takagi-san suggested going to a fish restaurant and have something that was fished out last night for breakfast. Sushi, sashimi, tempura. Baked in dough and cheese as well as rolled in nori, seafood equally smoothly melted in our mouths. Sasha moved marinated vagetables and vinegar closer to me and advised to generously pour it over delicacies in case Takagi-san was wrong about helminthes. There was also a nice green rose laid out on a tray nearby vinegar so I scooped it immodestly with a piece of sashimi. That was the first time I tried wasabi. I hated Takagi-san and Sasha back then. The first one was laughing openly while watching tears running form my eyes, the second one was delicately smirking and drowning a slice of ginger in soy sauce. “Jerks”, - I gasped and started drinking air like that stuck eel that I saw in the market previously in the day. I felt sorry for myself, then I felt very sad and then… Takagi-san rushed to buy my two cups of strong brewed coffee and sweet rice balls mochi so I can say that my fish day had quite a good conclusion.
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