I’ll never forget the first time I visited Japan. I wasn’t a flight attendant yet, I think I was eighteen, and I joined a family member on her Narita layover. I had a little over twenty four hours in Japan and in that time, my culinary desires were to have gyoza and teriyaki. When I think back, I cringe at this because I know how much I was missing out on. Although, I definitely was onto something regarding the idea of consuming as much gyoza as possible while in Japan. But at the time, I claimed to hate sea food. I know, sacrilege coming from a Seattle, girl. Perhaps because I grew up watching men toss around fish at the Pike Place Market, the thought of eating it just never did anything for me.
My culinary experiences in Japan greatly changed during my second visit. That fateful trip to Tokyo changed my life…and my taste buds…forever. Let me tell you how it happened.
My trip to Tokyo by way of NRT (Narita), started off grandly. I was able to get a seat, which for us standby folks is always a good sign. Of course, my Delta crew treated me like a rock star, which on a ten hour flight is so appreciated. I enjoyed cocktails, amazing food and four in-flight movies! Needless to say, I was sleepy, but pumped to explore Tokyo once again.
Yay, I’m back in Japan!
For this trip, I said that I was going to eat anything and be completely adventurous. Since Japan is an island, they obviously have amazing fresh fish and the Tsukiji Fish Market is famous world wide. So of course, it was my first stop. According to my travel guides, it’s important to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market nice and early. I didn’t necessarily need to see the first catches being brought in, so I didn’t show up before the sun, but I did plan on having an early lunch there and carousing most of the stands before any tourists showed up.
I was amazed at all the goods offered at the market, including fresh catches of squid, octopus, and fish I’d never even heard of. I was definitely inspired to pop into one of the Tsukiji Fish Market sushi shops. After all, if anyone could convert me into a sushi person, perhaps it would be Japan. I stepped inside a tiny establishment within the market and felt good about the number of locals that had already come inside to enjoy sushi. A conveyer belt wrapped around the tiny room with plates of beautifully crafted sushi and sashimi concoctions.
Although nothing was in English, I decided to try everything, even if I didn’t know what it was! I decided my method was simple, grab the pretty sushi plates as they passed by. Although my Japanese was iffy at best, it didn’t matter because the Sushi house was self serve and even included spigots of tea at every station. Just being in this environment was super fun because I’d never eaten at a place like this before!
Every plate of Sushi was so beautiful, it was obvious that the Sushi chefs took their time in creating these culinary masterpieces. The beauty in these dishes definitely made me feel brave to try new things and I quickly grabbed my first plate from the sushi belt.
Since I had always been anti-sea food, I have no idea what fish were on my sushi plate. I was eager to taste one of the mini art pieces though and quickly discovered something…it was amazing! That’s right, I didn’t know what it was, but it was probably the most amazing thing I’d ever tasted. The sushi melted in my mouth as if it had never been whole. That’s how fresh this fish was. Utterly amazing. I was convinced. Sushi, so far, was amazing and I’d definitely be having more than one plate!
Flight Attendant Tip: Although I was a sushi newbie, Japan taught me that traditionally, you’re supposed to eat the entire sushi in one bite. I found this hard believe and impossible at first (there was a very unflattering photo to prove it), but I soon got the hang of it. I definitely understand that by consuming the sushi in one bite, all the flavors are absorbed at the same time. And because good sushi melts in your mouth, the large bite is rendered palatable quite quickly.
It took all of my travel courage to take the above plate off the sushi belt, mainly because it had a face. But it was so unique to Japan, almost symbolic as a dish, I just had to. This little guys sacrifice wasn’t in vain and I salivated for moments after finishing this amazing dish, contemplating all I had been missing during my seafood-free life.
Above: I still don’t know what this is or what different things are in it…but it was amazing. A trend I noticed eating all this sushi is that every bite melted in my mouth. And despite all my preconceived notions, nothing tasted fishy. I was told later that fresh fish shouldn’t smell “fishy”.
Above: This plate ended up being my absolute favorite. The slight sear on top was like the icing on the cake, but um, for sushi. Since I was so Sushi illiterate, I had no idea until later that it was Unagi, also known as Eel! Who knew that this anti-sea food gal from the Pacific Northwest would go to Japan and get hooked on Eel? Not me, but to this day, my go-to date night dinner is Unagi from our local sushi joint. I <3 Unagi!
In all honesty, although Tokyo has converted me into a sushi lover, the above dish was the only one I didn’t love. I finished it, but the fish eggs were a bit salty for my taste. I definitely think if you’ve never tried them before, that you should. The texture is very interesting. They’re soft and squishy like Jell-O, but have a bit of a crunch as you bite into them.
How Much Will it Cost?
You will be amazed when I tell you that even though this was the most amazing sushi I’ve ever had (and since my first visit I had sushi just about everywhere) the plates of sushi were about $1 US dollar each. Isn’t that amazing? How it works is that different colored plates equal different prices. At the time of my visit, plate started as low as .50 cents. That’s right, you can get one of those beautiful sushi plates pictured for less than a dollar! The most expensive plate I had was $2. That means that the Tsukiji Fish Market has sushi for every budget. Heck, I ate like a queen at this amazing place! Look at all those plates I went through and it was less than $10 USD!
For my fellow flight crew, it’s cheaper to fly to Tokyo (including zed fares) and eat at Tokyo’s fish market than to have sushi at some restaurants in the states. No joke, a similar plate to what I got in Tokyo would be $24 USD at Los Angeles Sushi house, Katsuya. For one person to eat there easily racks up to over $100 dollars, and you’ll leave hungry if you’re not rich and famous. On my budget, I can’t even afford to step in the door. For less than $100, flight crew can nonrev to Tokyo and take a train or bus to the Tsukiji fish market area of downtown Tokyo. Even if you need to purchase a zed fare, it’s usually not more than $6o round trip. So why not hop over to Tokyo for an amazing lunch as just fly back? I did 🙂
Absolutely, anyone that visits Japan needs to visit Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market and have sushi while you’re there. Even if you’re like me and think you hate sea food, when I finally gave it a chance, the fresh fish blew my mind. Sushi really is an art form in Japan. Although Tokyo has many different areas to explore, do not leave without experiences the Tsukiji Fish Market. You’ll feel like you’re in a different world! And isn’t that what traveling is for?
So, are you are a sushi addict or are you ready to be converted?
The Luv Aviatrix
Ready to plan your trip to Tokyo? My bookshelves would be empty without all my great travel books to get me ready!