22 April 2005

The big thing to see at the Tsukiji market is the tuna auction. Rows and rows of tuna, frozen or not, are pored over by dealers. Each of them is carrying a short-handled gaff and a flashlight. The tuna themselves have been gutted and some of them have had their heads removed. All have had their tails removed and an inch-thick cross-section sliced through at the tail, left attached at the bottom, to show the flesh of the tuna. Additionally, there's a flap sliced along the grain of the muscle near the tail. Dealers examine, poke and prod and test these two chunks to determine the quality of the meat, but they also lay into the tail end with their gaffs and dig out a chunk of frozen meat. This is rubbed between thumb and two fingers in front of the flashlight beam until it's a pink paste. This ostensibly tells them the level of gristle and overall quality of the fish. As 5:30 nears, the dealers post themselves in the vicinity of the lot they would like to buy. The quiet room gets quieter. People start checking their watches, despite the clocks on the walls.

At 5:30 on the dot, the hall fills with the ringing of two bells, each held by an auctioneer. Japanese is not a strident language, which is maybe the reason that the auctioneers don't really fill the room with their crying, but the auction does satisfy, with arcane hand gestures, rolling and semi-ululating crying, and massive fish hauled by two or three men with hooks at the moment of purchase onto waiting hand carts. It's still going when I wander away to find breakfast. Outside the market, there are restaurants and market stalls. I settle on a place filled with locals and have a breakfast of miso soup, green tea, and raw tuna over rice. A little pricey at 1350 yen, but the tuna was absolutely astounding, the flavor bright and meaty, the texture firm but not hard. After breakfast, I headed across the way and bought a santoku knife from one of the merchants. After I selected it, the old man took it in the back and ground it to a keen edge, demonstrating the sharpness by slicing a sheet of paper. He said the knife was carbon steel, which means it'll develop a rust patina over time, but that's sort of a mark of the hardcore chef.

The subway back to the hotel was quick, about half an hour. I got back in time to shower and dress and get to the office a little early.

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