The Kyoto Wholesale Food Market is great, not to mention still humane and friendly, but Tsukiji Market in Tokyo has no peer for variety, sheer scale and of course terseness. If you are hungry and into sushi, what sets these two apart is that Tsukiji has a some of the best sushi restaurants in the world, and they close around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. You go to Tsukiji Market sushi restaurants for breakfast, not dinner. These sushi restaurants cater to the ruffians that work in Tsukiji Market, not the well-heeled evening diners of Ginza.
＊Sorry about the poor quality photos, I only had my mobile phone with me on this trip.
On my most recent trip to Tokyo, I met the Tokyo Fixer, AKA Shinji Nohara. We met earlier in 2009 at a Bon Appetit photoshoot at Kichisen. I didn’t know much about Shinji, he was very low key but with a Hollywood celebrity photographer, so I figured that he must be a bit of a mover and shaker. But I live in Kyoto and Kyoto is decidedly non-mover and shaker. And, Shinji didn’t have his website URL on his weird, fire engine red (and translucent) business card. De rigeur in Tokyo, I assume. His card just said that he was a ‘contributor’ and had a nondescript webmail email address on it. If you are really connected, under-promoting yourself is cool. Less is more.
So, fast forward few months and I am watching (actually mostly listening while I work) Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour – A Taste of Tokyo on YouTube. The clip was about Tokyo-style sushi, which is called fast food in Kyoto.
So bad boy celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is in a car, early morning, on the way to Tsukiji Market chatting with his guides and I glance up and see the driver in the review mirror. I was like, masaka, isn’t that … that dude… that Tokyo dude… … Shinji? Yes, it is!
So I emailed Shinji and I’m all like, dude, I just saw you on YouTube, dude, you’re famous. I was like, dude, how about lunch or coffee next time I am in Tokyo?
Shinji was like, dude, I’ll take you to my favorite sushi bar in Tsukiji Market — at 5 am for breakfast!
I was like, dude! I am there! And, my friends were all like, dude!
Shinji was quite emphatic about arriving when the restaurant opened, at 5 am. Trains don’t start running in Tokyo until like 5 am and I was staying all the way across town. He kindly arrived early and got in line.
I invited along a Tokyo native, entrepreneur friend and we met up for sushi on a cold early December morning. We got to Sushi Dai at about 5:50 to find Shinji at the very head of a growing line and next to him are these two suave smokers speaking French. They seemed to be with us, but I wasn’t sure until we paid. My friend chatted with the French guys as Shinji and I chatted and go to know each other better.
Then, we got into the cramped little restaurant and it was time to eat super fresh, quality nigiri sushi!
About Shinji, the Tokyo Fixer
Like I said, Shinji is the Tokyo Fixer, he doesn’t fix broken one-touch mochi makers or broken purikura machines, he fixes you up with photoshoot or movie locations, celebrities or the best damn meals available on planet Earth! When Anthony Bourdain came to Tokyo, Shinji fixed him up. (I am assuming only with food.) Be sure to check out TokyoFixer.com.
About Sushi Dai
Unlike the rest of Tsukiji Market, Sushi Dai is an oasis of civility, warmth and smiles. Prices are quite reasonable considering the quality of the sushi served. There are a number of other restaurants on either side of Sushi Dai and they had no lines and appeared to be nearly empty. Wow, this is one popular restaurant!
There are several nigiri sushi sets to choose from. We had the 4,600 yen set but I think there were two that were cheaper starting ate around 2,500 or 3,000 yen. Our set included about 12 kinds of sushi and at the end they give you another of whatever you would like. I couldn’t decide and asked the chef, did he recommend the hobo or kan buri? He said, well, how about I make both for you, just a little smaller? They didn’t really seem smaller to me — and I had no complaints!
Shinji out did me though, this dude is a real pro! He ordered kawahagi which comes with a piece of kawahagi liver on top of the meat.
Business hours are 5 am to 2 pm. The restaurant only seats 13. Expect to wait in line. Try to arrive before 5 am. If you need details talk to Shinji.
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