In the Belly of Tsukiji

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So at 8 A.M., the three of us sat down for omakase, chef’s choice. The chef had picked up all the fish at the market earlier that day and said he would stay open until he ran out of fish—”usually around 2 or 3 P.M.”

I had never eaten most of the fish laid out before us, aside from tai (sea bream), chu toro, saba (mackerel), anago (eel) and uni. Among my new discoveries: a crunchy fish the size of a needle; and mackerel skin curled around a stick and broiled crisp. We ate for nearly an hour, finally finishing up with miso shiro and green tea. It was among the best I’ve eaten—and certainly the best I’ve had at 8 A.M.

Our Version

Back home that day, my cousins got to work, soaking the rice and slicing the pickles and the tuna. I set about grating the wasabi root into a paste (“Don’t grate it too fast,” my aunt instructed, “or else it will oxidize. And don’t be angry while you do it, or it won’t taste good!”). She had bought some tofu from a vendor outside the subway station, which she heated in a broth and then drizzled with a bit of shoyu and a dash of the fresh wasabi.

When the rice was done, I fanned it as the sushi seasoning (rice-wine vinegar and sugar) was added. My cousin folded and then tore the sheets of nori (seaweed) for our hand rolls. Just then, a neighbor came and handed us a huge head of broccoli, picked from her community garden. My aunt had some soramame—“Aha,” I said, “fava beans!” —that we peeled open on the dining table. She boiled the pods in salt water.

When we sat down for the meal, we made hand rolls with the tender tuna slices; the soft ikura roe and earthy uni; the bright shiso leaf; the deeply flavored, gooey, fermented natto (an acquired taste, to be sure); the pickled takuan; and wasabi—all in various combinations nestled in rice and nori. The tofu, served on the side, was soft and comforting; we popped the fava beans into our mouths with no seasoning at all. You didn’t need much with all those flavors batting around.

As for my mother’s shijimi clams, they were cooked in miso soup until they opened. My aunt dished out a generous serving of clams into each bowl and then poured the miso broth on top. Tokyo clam chowder.

At the end, we were stuffed, the kids asleep on the couch. We sat around and drank sake until it was time to go, then went out into the cool Tokyo night.

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