Not long after moving here, I stumbled upon a gem tucked in some back alleys and warehouses near Nagoya Station. I’ve been around Seattle long enough to know what it means when you see men running around in rubber boots and carrying Styrofoam boxes full of ice: it must be a fish market. After a few days of walking past and trying to catch a glimpse inside, I finally worked up the courage to venture into the fray. Hanging around Pike Place Market in Seattle doesn’t prepare you for the utter chaos that is a high-volume wholesale fish market in Japan. Restaurant buyers are placing huge orders, men are carving tuna with 3-foot-long “knives”, and orders are being rushed to and from trucks on speeding carts.
Visits to this morning market have become a real treat for me over the past six months. I always make a point of taking visitors there, since it is such an “authentic” experience. I’ve grown from being too nervous to check it out to becoming a regular customer… I even have “my guy” that always gives me a discount on a small package of tuna from that day’s fish. I love it.
Today I visited the market with my camera in hand, hoping to capture some of the experience in order to share it with you. Warning: there are a lot of dead animals in the following blog post. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.
In Japan, if it swims, it is good enough to eat. This is a logical way of thinking for a mountainous island nation – there isn’t exactly a lot of pasture land here. Tuna gets a lot of attention, but that’s only a small part of the fishing industry. At first, I don’t think I recognized even half of the creatures that were flopping around in boxes at the market. I’ve been trying to learn what they all are, though I still have a ways to go. Sometimes I ask the fishmonger for the name which, if I can remember it, I can look up in a dictionary later. Other times I try shot-in-the-dark Google searches. It works: this is a red cornetfish:
It’s not always enough just to know what you’re looking at; I wish I knew what in the world to do with most of the seafood. I’ve gotten a little more adventurous but not too daring – for instance, in this picture you can see fugu blowfish on the left (you know, the fish that can kill you if you prepare it incorrectly). Nope, probably not going to try my luck on that.
I’ve written before about how astonishingly fresh the food is here. The fish market is certainly no exception. Some stalls have aquariums set up where you can just point at your dinner and have the fishmonger net it out for you. Other places have air pumps bubbling away to keep the fish alive in boxes. More often than not, I see overly vigorous fish flop themselves out of their containers – but the jumpers are quickly retrieved from the floor by a watchful storekeeper.
I happened upon “my fish guy” one day while I was looking for something for dinner. Even though most of the business seems to be wholesale, many vendors have smaller packages set out for regular folks. I was looking for the best deal on tuna when I was offered a “very good deal, big discount for you.” This caught me by surprise, since most of the vendors avoid eye contact and certainly don’t speak English. This guy, though, spoke some English and had the personality of a used car salesman… so he was right, it was a deal I couldn’t refuse. I get the same deal whenever I go back – 200 yen off, just because. Awesome.
Between his limited English and my limited Japanese, we are able to have some semblance of a conversation whenever I stop by. I took my dad for a visit when he was in town… after answering that he worked for the Ford Motor Company, the man lit up and concluded that he in fact looked like Harrison Ford (a rumor that my dad was not keen to dispel). Even today, two months later, he is still inquiring about my dad. Perhaps I get that discount because I’m the daughter of a celebrity.