Japan is a magical place.
The love of all things Japanese has long been taking over the western world, and it is a fascination that doesn’t seem to be dying down. Thoughts of visiting conjures beautiful imagery in ones mind, but being there is another experience entirely – and it is even more magical than expected.
I had the pleasure of undertaking my first visit under the watchful eye of Scotty who had been numerous times before. If you haven’t been before Japan can be rather daunting to plan, trust me I know. But never fear, it will all be ok, and you will definitely want to go back so its ok to just do Tokyo and Kyoto on your first trip and get more adventurous the next time.
I’m not a travel writer, so I’m not about to tell you how to get there, where to stay, or what to do (as there are many wonderful writers who do this far better than I). What I am going to do is take some of my most incredible experiences and share them with you as posts accompanied by recipes these experiences have since inspired.
From the moment I knew we were going to Japan, the Tsukiji Fish Market was at the top of the destination list. It is the worlds largest and busiest fish market and nothing can quite prepare you for the seemingly endless rows of stalls with all manor of seafood.
Famed for its 5am tuna auctions and with only a handful of spots for the public to watch, our good intentions of an early arrival were dashed by being struck down with colds the minute we arrived in Tokyo. Nevertheless, after extensive reading about the best time to visit, we got to the outer market at 7:30am to look through the stalls in preparation for the 9:00am public opening of the Tsukiji fish market proper.
It is important to note that the majority of trading happens between 5am and 9am with the public allowed in at 9am. This means the traders can conduct their business without the myriad of tourists and their cameras getting in the way. My tip is to get there well before 9am, tour the outer market and have a sashimi breakfast (the freshest and best you will likely ever eat) and then ensure you enter the main fish market space the moment 9am hits. You will have 30 minutes of bustling activity before many of the stall holders start to clean up – it is 30 minutes of pure wondrous adrenaline (you can stay longer but we sensed it start to change pace after 9:30am).
If you arrive early you will also get to watch the “ballet of the motorised cart”, with hundreds of motorised carts picking up and delivering fresh seafood while whizzing past cars, motorcyclists and cyclists at a breakneck speed in the most perfectly choreographed way.
Once inside, confronted with rows and rows of stalls the hardest decision will be which row to go down first. A true feast for the eyes, the cobblestone floor affirms its age of 80 years and given it is set to move locations in 2016, I’m just not sure it will have the same charm in a brand new building.
Amongst a myriad of other seafood, Tuna is most definitely king at Tsukiji. The best cuts are lovingly and carefully prepared at each turn of your head – you see it skilfully carved, lovingly pat dry and delicately wrapped. It is mesmerising to watch and has led to me consuming it with more respect and consideration since our visit.
The memory of Tsukiji will be with Scott and I forever and I think of it often. We will definitely visit again when it moves a little further out of town, and it will be interesting to see what the new market is like and indeed what becomes of the outer market and it’s many restaurants which sprung up over the years. Only time will tell.
Inspired by the flavours we ate and our visit to the market while in Japan, I picked up a piece of sashimi-grade tuna at the less grandiose albeit wonderful Sydney Seafood Market and created this recipe for Seared Sesame Tuna with Cucumber and Avocado Salad to share with you.
It will serve two as dinner or four as an entree and is fresh and flavourful with a crisp cucumber and buttery avocado salad topped with lightly seared sesame crusted tuna and a mirin and soy dressing.
Seared Sesame Tuna with Cucumber and Avocado
- 400g piece sashimi grade tuna
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi powder (Japanese 7 flavour chilli powder)
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 lebanese cucumbers, ribboned with a vegetable peeler on two sides
- 1/2 ripe avocado, diced
- 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 long red chilli, sliced
- Fresh coriander sprigs, to garnish
- 1 1/2 tablespoon mirin
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Prepare the tuna by cutting it into 3cm x 3cm squares. Pour the sesame seeds into a flat plate and shake gently till they form an even layer. Sprinkle the chilli powder over the sesame seeds, then gently coat 4 sides of each tuna piece (leaving the ends) in the sesame seeds by pressing the pieces in. Gently tap the plate between pieces to even out the seeds. Heat a heavy frypan over medium high heat.
Combine the salad ingredients on a large plate leaving the chilli and coriander till later (or divide them between individual plates if you like) and then in a small bowl combine the dressing ingredients and then pour half of it over the salad.
Once the frypan is hot, add the sesame oil and then place the tuna pieces into the pan sesame side down and sear for 30 seconds on each sesame side until you can just see the edges of the tuna changing colour by looking at the ends. Remove from the pan and gently cut into thin slices.
Place on top of the salad and top with the chilli, coriander and the rest of the dressing.