In business for 82 years, the Tsukiji wholesale market is one of Tokyo's most prominent sightseeing spots, always attracting hordes of both tourists and locals. Its illustrious history may sadly soon come to an end, as the central market is finally set to move out to Toyosu in autumn 2018, so you shouldn't dither too long before checking out what has been an integral part of Tokyo's rise to the top of the culinary world.
Although a trip to 'Tokyo's kitchen' usually involves sushi or other seafood fare, Tsukiji connoisseurs know it's not all about raw fish. Here's our list of the best places both inside and outside the market for everything from classic curry rice, surprisingly tasty bread and the obligatory super-fresh sushi, so set your alarm clock and start the day with a truly extraordinary breakfast. Don't bother to get up early on Sunday or holidays though – the market is always closed on those days (as well as on certain Wednesdays). And for those visiting during the day, we recommend these fine Tsukiji street snacks.
The best breakfast bites
This tonkatsu place inside the market area also serves up great fried seafood, made from fish so fresh that it would make terrific sashimi. The menu's diverse, with combo plates of everything from tiger prawns to mackerel and scallops. Believe it or not, the fried jack mackerel set (¥1,000) is a true culinary achievement, and makes for a great way to start the day off right.
Opening hours: 5am-1pm
Tenfusa is the only tempura eatery inside the market, but that doesn't mean it survives on default: as is to be expected, the ingredients here are some of the freshest you'll find anywhere in Tokyo, and the seafood selection is impressive to say the least. Try the basic Tendon (¥1,200), a smallish bowl of rice covered with the day's catch of prawns, flathead fish, anago eel, scallops and so on. The toppings vary by the day, giving you can excuse for repeat trips.
Opening hours: 7am-2pm
Visit this cozy diner during the morning hours and you'll find it filled with fishmongers, wholesalers and other folks who make their living at Tsukiji, all chowing down on their personal favourites off the eclectic (and lengthy) teishoku menu. One of the few Tsukiji restaurants not inundated with tourists, Isonoya no longer serves its renowned Kakimeshi oyster rice, but this supremely buttery salmon set makes for a great alternative.
Opening hours: 7am-4pm
Nakae's Indian Curry House serves up handmade curries for 600 yen – a price that's hard to beat anywhere in Tokyo. Cooked for two days in total and containing a wealth of onions and pork ribs, this compentently-spiced variety is one for the ages. The Aigake combo dish, which comes with both beef curry and a tomato-based sauce (¥700), is highly recommended.
Opening hours: 5am-2pm
UPDATE: Takahashi is currently closed until further notice.
Seafood restaurant Takahashi's headliner Anago-don (eel bowl with rice, ¥2,000) features luxuriously thick eel, flavoured with subtly sweet dipping sauce. Although you might want to go easy on the wasabi around breakfast time, the treacherous green paste really does bring out the best in the dish. A little pricey, sure, but worth it.
Opening hours: 8am-1pm
People who work in the Tsukiji market take their breaks at Café Senri-ken, famed for its pork fillet sandwiches. The Special Set (¥1,100) is a great breakfast choice, consisting of a creamy soup (complete with a soft-boiled egg), toast, salad, and coffee or black tea. Get there early and take in the no-frills atmosphere.
Opening hours: 4am-12.30pm
Japanese restaurant Kato specialises in seasonal seafood flavours, serving a selection of delicious sashimi, simmered, salt-broiled, grilled and boiled fish, all cooked to order. The Soy Sauce Alfonsino Set (price varies; from ¥1,600) is a great savoury choice that comes with rice and vegetables.
Opening hours: 7am-2.30pm
Queue up at Sushi Dai, Yamato Sushi or other renowned places for a taste of Tsukiji's famed sushi – or skip the waiting altogether and head to Iwasa. A group of affiliated companies operates eight Iwasa locations inside Tsukiji, buying up the best seafood available (including some unbelievably tasty clams) every day. This is shellfish lover heaven: try seven kinds of clams or mussels and one roll in the Shellfish Mix (¥3,600) – a perfect morning deal after a night of serious drink-sipping.
Opening hours: 6am-2.30pm
Tsukiji's got no shortage of restaurants combining seafood with rice, but Segawa is clearly among the cream of the crop. Very popular with the regular crowd, this down-to-earth eatery carries top-quality lean, thick tuna, serving it with a soy sauce made with an inherited 'secret' recipe, creating a nice balance with the vinegary rice. The daily special's a great choice at ¥1,600, but you really can't go wrong with the basic Tuna Bowl (¥900).
Opening hours: 8am-as long as stock lasts
Strolling along Monzeki-dori outside of the market, you'll soon notice a fierce, meaty smell. This aggressive odour emanates from Kitsuneya, a true Tsukiji classic serving the venerable Horumon-don (¥850), a hearty combo of rice, leek and organ meats flavoured with a rich miso-based sauce. Order an extra soft-boiled egg (¥50) to recreate the traditional power meal that's kept locals on their feet through thick and thin since 1947.
Opening hours: 7am-1.30pm
If you're a true Tsukiji veteran and have already sampled all the delectable seafood and street snacks available inside and around the market, it might be worth heading to this well-hidden joint for some healthy and energy-packed soba. The Tsuke Kakiage Seiro combines cold noodles with a warm dipping sauce topped with mushy kakiage tempura, and is sure to shake off any lingering drowsiness.
Opening hours: 7am-3pm, 5.30pm-11pm (Sat 7am-2pm)
Torito, run by a chicken wholesaler, is unquestionably the top Tsukiji destination for bird-eaters. Go all-out with the Mizutaki Set (¥900), which features a creamy white soup made with salty stock base, chicken dumplings and veg – perfect for a chilly morning by the sea. Treat your taste buds to a feast at Torito, and you might feel ready for an early nap.
Opening hours: 7.30am-2pm
Located a short walk from the market itself, 4 Season draws an endless stream of customers with its 'traditional' sausage- and onion-topped margarine spaghetti, known locally as 'Japanese Spa' (¥870). Don't expect any Italian flavours here – the seasoning relies heavily on soy sauce, and a massive pile of shiso leaves nearly covers the noodles.
Opening hours: 7.30am-4pm
Find this orange-coloured bakery on Namiyoke-dori just outside the market. Le Pain serves up freshly baked bread and great coffee, but we feel obliged to highlight the excellent croissants. Start with the slightly salty Red Bean Jam Croissant for a Japanese original, or choose from varieties like the creamy Vanilla Croissant, the Maple Pecan, or the healthy Five Grains Croissant.
Opening hours: 6am-2pm