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The Ultimate Sushi Experience
June 3, 2007 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Sheets of kombu (kelp) covered with herring roe; big white sacs of octopus roe. Among a biochromatic wealth of mysterious mollusks and other sea invertebrates of unknown nature, I see the weirdest creature I've ever seen. Now, that's a fucking organism. Tom Asakawa looks at it awhile, too. Hoya, or sea pineapple. "Sea pineapple," he says. "Attaches to rocks in the ocean. Tastes something like iodine. Sendai people like it." It looks nothing like a pineapple. It looks like something that could exist only in a purely hallucinatory eco-system. It looks like, I don't know, maybe an otherworldly marital aid of inscrutable purpose for the brides of Satan. "I need to eat that," I say. "I'll see what I can do," Tom says.
Nick Tosches visits Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market for Vanity Fair. [previously on mefi]
posted by monju_bosatsu (36 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tsukiji is great. The auctions take place every morning, very early, like 4 or 5 a.m. Gaijin usually go out clubbing and plan for an all nighter, head over to Tsukiji when the clubs close and check out all the madness. There's lots of restaurants there that have sushi/sashimi breakfast, particularly tuna. It's fresh as can be and quite inexpensive.
posted by zardoz at 6:46 PM on June 3, 2007


I only read the first couple hundred words but that is one heck of a writer. I have seen this fish auction on TV but having a good writer present it is way cooler.
posted by Iron Rat at 6:55 PM on June 3, 2007


Still the most memorable hour or two of my 9-day trip to Tokyo a couple years ago. The best plan, if coming from the US and therefore way jet lagged, is to plan to do it as your very first thing when arriving in Tokyo, after getting your first sleep from the trans-Pacific flight. Land, eat, go to hotel and sleep for 10 hours, get up at 4am, take the first subway over to Tsujiki, and watch the auction. We didn't hustle enough and barely caught the end of the auction, but the rest of the operation is insane enough all morning. Tends to be somewhat crawling with stunned Western tourists like yourself, but this was one of the few places where I didn't mind seeing them, it just didn't matter.
posted by intermod at 7:05 PM on June 3, 2007


working near Tsukiji in the 90s I had the occasional foreigner ask me where the fish market was. "Uh, somewhere over there. . ." [pointing vaguely SE] was all I could say. . .
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:21 PM on June 3, 2007


Cultivation of sea pineapples
posted by gubo at 7:33 PM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hoya. Ishinomaki. Craziness. Yum.
posted by kickback at 7:37 PM on June 3, 2007


I only read the first couple hundred words but that is one heck of a writer. I have seen this fish auction on TV but having a good writer present it is way cooler.

Yes. Tosches, at his best, is truly the shit. Seek out Hellfire, his biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. It's gotta be one of the half-dozen finest books ever written about rock & roll. He also wrote a sort of extended postcard snapshot of Dubai last year for VF that kicked all kinds of ass. Find that too.
posted by gompa at 7:45 PM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Great article. I'm a lifelong vegetarian, but this article, along with this one, are the only two things that have ever made me curious. The fact that he skates over so much content, even despite the length, such as the Moon connection and the the bar in the red light district, makes me wish there were more, and it were as similarly iin-depth as the rest of the piece. Nevertheless, good find.
posted by duende at 8:05 PM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Eats stuff found on the beach this afternoon, garnished with fermented crab brains and eyeballs; defensively ejects and regrows internal organs.
posted by longsleeves at 8:10 PM on June 3, 2007


skates. hmm...
posted by longsleeves at 8:11 PM on June 3, 2007


Another symptom of the rape of the oceans. But hey, it is very quaint.
Most recently.:

AUSTRALIA'S top fisheries manager has revealed Japan illegally took $2 billion worth of southern bluefin tuna, effectively killing the stock commercially.

An investigation into the imperilled fishery found Japanese fishers and suppliers from other countries caught up to three times the Japanese quota each year for the past 20 years, and hid it.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority's managing director, Richard McLoughlin, said it was an enormous international fraud. "Essentially the Japanese have stolen $2 billion worth of fish from the international community, and have been sitting in meetings for 15 years saying they are as pure as the driven snow. And it's outrageous."

posted by Rumple at 8:14 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah Tsukiji is a blast. I remember going there a few months after I arrived with a mate from the gaijin house i was living in.

We went to this neat sushi place after for brekky and were perplexed that there were no chopsticks. The cheery sushi man explained we should eat it with our fingers. We thought this was a local "make fun of the silly foreigners thing" and wouldn't eat until we saw a Japanese person eating with their fingers.

Ah the days when everything in Japan was a wonderment and shiny and new.....
posted by gomichild at 8:17 PM on June 3, 2007


Oh, I'm very excited to read this in full!
posted by serazin at 8:33 PM on June 3, 2007


Best article about food I've read all year. Thank you.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:52 PM on June 3, 2007


Went there in an early morning daze last year...Wow. Fish fish fish fish fish.
posted by kozad at 11:02 PM on June 3, 2007


that is one heck of a writer

Truer words rarely writ.
posted by mwhybark at 11:37 PM on June 3, 2007


That's an awesome article. Never read anything by him before, but it won't be the last.

Alas, landed in a landlocked prefecture, but love the fish markets when we travel, and even the grocery stores here are chock full of absolute weirdness for dinner.

Rumple, I believe it. I usually say to mrs. dreamsign in the market "ok, let's see what the drag nets have brought in today"
posted by dreamsign at 12:01 AM on June 4, 2007


Huh. I thought the article was a train-wreck myself, moving all over the place, throwing out a lot of spurious claims (yes Americans are addicted to sugar, but this is why they like sushi? Huh?). Also, if you're going to eat and drink some wonderfully exotic stuff, it would be nice if you'd try and describe it for us. What the heck does whale taste like, anyways?

Sounds like he had fun though. Some of the scenes he sets up are great.
posted by bardic at 12:36 AM on June 4, 2007


The strange thing about Tsukiji, I found, was that it didn't smell as fishy as my local fishmonger.
posted by liquidindian at 3:14 AM on June 4, 2007


Also, if you're going to eat and drink some wonderfully exotic stuff, it would be nice if you'd try and describe it for us.

I can't remember the exact taste of sea pineapple, but it's the only food that's made me think "Hey, this is quite nice" and "Urgh, fetch me a bucket" simultaneously. Does that help?
posted by liquidindian at 3:19 AM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Now that his friend Cubby has gone and he is left with the title of America's most interesting writer, Tosches should really try and concentrate on better stuff -- this is a good piece, better than his Windows XP desktop image piece, of course, and we all need to pay the bills, there's a beauty in that, in supporting oneself the way one can. And Graydon Carter, that canny man, understands that Tosches is one of the very few writers who can occasionally save his magazine from simply being a more expensively made InStyle, so God bless him for that. But still I wish Tosches would focus more, I think he may have a few more masterpieces in him -- if Gore Vidal is America's biographer, Tosches is the troubadour of some of her least known -- or least understood -- great sons.
posted by matteo at 3:46 AM on June 4, 2007


The strange thing about Tsukiji, I found, was that it didn't smell as fishy as my local fishmonger.

Fresh fish isn't supposed to smell fishy ... apparently ....
posted by gomichild at 3:46 AM on June 4, 2007


And the article confirms that Tsukiji isn't smelly. Until the morning after.
posted by imperium at 4:08 AM on June 4, 2007


bardic writes "What the heck does whale taste like, anyways?"

It's hard to describe. "Not good" is the best I can come up with. Imagine having some, I dunno, tuna. Then imagine having a pot of cow blood. Now boil the cow blood so that you drive off some of the water, concentrating the blood flavour. Now steep the tuna in the cow blood concentrate. That's what it tasted like to me. I like tuna. I like "cow juice". But that amount of concentration of flavour was just nasty. (YMMV, of course).
posted by Bugbread at 5:54 AM on June 4, 2007


I read this article in Vanity Fair and luxuriated in every word. Damn, that Tosches can write.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:13 AM on June 4, 2007


I don't eat fish, much less raw fish, but I'll read anything Tosches writes. Thanks for the post!

I'm a sucker for stuff like this:
Hiroyasu Ito leads us to a small, nondescript restaurant on a narrow street with no name. It's barely seven in the morning, and already there's a long line of people waiting to enter. Tom Asakawa tells me it's almost impossible to get into this place. People from all over Japan, from all over the world, come here in search of it. Ito-san looks at the queue and gestures for us to follow him. We turn a corner to another nameless, alley-like street, and come to an open kitchen door. The young girl scrubbing pans outside greets Ito-san with a happy smile. We enter through this back door, and emerge amid bows in a poky restaurant with a counter that seats fewer than a dozen. But somehow there are seats awaiting us...
And my ex-wife (a professional chef) used to tell me a good fish market doesn't smell like fish, but I found it hard to believe (living as I did in NYC, where all the fish markets smell like fish). Now I know she was right.
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on June 4, 2007


I haven't been to Tsukiji (yeah, yeah, I always plan on going but never get around to it), but now that y'all mention it, one of the differences I find with the fish section of the supermarkets in Japan and the US is that in the US, they smell like fish, and in Japan, they smell like...I dunno, supermarket? I had always attributed that to greater use of shrinkwrap, but it may be due to the freshness of the fish.
posted by Bugbread at 7:38 AM on June 4, 2007


Better get a move on bugbread before they close it!
posted by gomichild at 8:41 AM on June 4, 2007


Seriously, everyone in here digging the Tosches needs to go find the VF piece he did last year on Dubai. June 2006, it looks like. It was a perfect marriage of writer and subject, like HST in Vegas. Best I could find on the interweb was an excerpt:

The Dubai skyline is like no other. Silhouettes of cities come into being over the course of centuries. Here, where a few buildings rose from the dirt 15 years ago, countless stuctures now crowd the land and gasp for what space remains. Here there is no sense of accrued form, no sense of architecural strategy, no sense of past becomes present. Here, there is no sense, period. It changes every day, every night. Looking out one evening, I see Manhattan. The next night, it's a boundless industrial fantasia, a ten-fold Newark-by-the-sea. Then, another night, it is what it is: Dubai, shape-shifting, hammering and grinding madly and somehow silently, toward the sun and the stars. There is no architectural ryhme, no cohesion of design, no defining style. It is the visual equivalent of a bunch of speed freaks babbling incoherently to one another. Las Vegas is a sputtering 20-watt bulb compared with this fire in the desert. Forget about babbling speed freaks. Forget about everything. This is a skyline on crack.
posted by gompa at 11:47 AM on June 4, 2007


Dubai's the Limit
posted by felix grundy at 12:52 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Much obliged for the superior Google Fu, felix.
posted by gompa at 12:54 PM on June 4, 2007


My pleasure—thanks for letting me know such a thing was out there to be found.
posted by felix grundy at 1:02 PM on June 4, 2007


When there's nothing left in the oceans but jellyfish and blooms of toxic algae, our descendants will read this article, or articles like it, and wonder what the fuck we were thinking.
posted by jokeefe at 1:04 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


jokeefe writes "When there's nothing left in the oceans but jellyfish and blooms of toxic algae, our descendants will read this article, or articles like it, and wonder what the fuck we were thinking."

Jellyfish is good eating.
posted by Bugbread at 1:28 PM on June 4, 2007


No offence, jokeefe, because I agree that there's no upside to overfishing, but we're talking about, at most, a Tragedy of the Commons situation here. This isn't aerosol cheese and Cadillac Escalades, this isn't even shipping Atlantic fish to China to be turned into fish sticks to be sold at the local supermarket. This is fresh, raw fish. This has been part of human existence since we first learned to catch the slippery buggers, and it's one of the oldest forms of trade known to civilization.

We need a binding, well-policed, Kyoto-like global sustainable fishery, absolutely, but Tokyo's fishmongers - living as they do in one of the greenest industrial societies on the planet - are not the embodiment of the problem; Captain High Liner is.
posted by gompa at 1:37 PM on June 4, 2007


but Tokyo's fishmongers - living as they do in one of the greenest industrial societies on the planet - are not the embodiment of the problem; Captain High Liner is.

That's catchy but not particularly true.

"Atlantic bluefin [tuna], used for high-end sushi and sashimi, is massively overfished and the spawning stock of southern bluefin in the Indian Ocean is down about 90%."

Japan, which consumes more than half of the world's catch of at-risk Atlantic bluefin tuna, admits overfishing, but blames poor communication between its fishermen and denies it has fished illegally.


And it's not like fishing methods haven't changed "since we first learned to catch the slimy buggers". Visiting the old Dutch trading post on Dejima, recently, I learned that the Japanese actually got dragnetting from the Dutch. That's not that long ago, in terms of the life of the ocean.

Anyway, the fishmongers themselves? No.
I love markets like this. And sashimi. Mmm.
posted by dreamsign at 4:35 AM on June 5, 2007


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