The lively Tsukiji Market has become one of Japan’s must-visit sites, attracting not only foreign tourists, but also visitors from within Japan, eager to get a glimpse – and perhaps taste – of the freshest seafood in the city. The crowds of visitors have brought plenty of changes to the market – beyond the piled-high stacks of tuna, jumbo crabs and other deep sea delicacies, you'll now find an increasingly large number of shops selling street snacks to hungry tourists, eager to sample the enticing seafood on offer. Check out our pick of the bunch, and hurry up – the main market is scheduled to move out to Toyosu in late 2018, so the Tsukiji we all know and love may be gone before you know it. Meanwhile, you'll also want to check out our guide to breakfast at Tsukiji.
The top 15
Originally an offshoot of Ginza's Kimuraya, this pastry shop and bakery boasts a history almost as illustrious as its big brother's: it opened inside Tsukiji's outer market in 1910. Patrons keep coming back for their Keshi Anpan, a sweet bun made with beer hops and garnished with poppy (keshi) seeds. For a more orthodox alternative, try the regular anpan, which come in several different versions.
This 80-year-old store stocks an assortment of ocean-based treats, including pickled and dried fish, satsuma-age (deep-fried minced fish and vegetables), and more. Try the squid dumplings, which are made with fish paste and comprise a crunchy exterior that gives way to a fluffy centre, or the corn fritters, which also contain fish paste for added depth of flavour, and are available only at Tsukiji.
In a departure from Tsukiji's usual seaside theme, Yoshizawa Shoten is actually a butcher shop that handles mainly beef – including Japanese black beef. It also sells street snacks, such as the aforementioned black beef pickled in saikyo miso, as well as beef cutlets and grilled pork. The fatty Matsuzaka beef minced meat cakes are the pick of the bunch though – made with 100 percent ground Matsuzaka beef for a rich, juicy snack.
Nerimono, the cooked ground fish found in traditional Japanese dishes from oden to New Year's osechi ryori, is the speciality at this longstanding purveyor headquartered in the outer market area. Given an extra garnish at the shop, the freshly kneaded, simple eats served here are all top quality and bring out the original flavours of the ingredients. You'll want to try the Tsukiji Fry, a kamaboko stick made of crab-flavoured surimi seafood.
The odd-ball of the Tsukiji over-the-counter market, Suga Shoten sells yumcha (dim-sum-like dishes taken with tea) that are cooked up in its billowing steamers. The small meat buns are a good choice – generously stuffed and wrapped in a thin layer of dough – while the succulent black pork dumplings, made with pork shoulder roast from Abel farm pigs in Kagoshima prefecture, are juicy and delicious.
Skewered, fried vegetables, subtly seasoned with a peppery kick, that are perfect for eating on the go make Marutama Suisan Processing a delicious draw for hungry market-goers. If you venture inside, you can also pick up fish-paste-stuffed oden items, made in the interior market, as a take-home treat for friends or family (¥500). Find it on the left hand side, right near the entrance to the outer market from Ichiba-bashi.
The home of the rolled omelette, this speciality shop's highly praised eggy wares can also be sampled at a number of top-class restaurants in Tokyo, or bought at many of the city's department stores. Daisada uses locally raised red eggs from Chiba prefecture to create rolled omelettes that are fluffy, rich and bursting with a well-balanced sweetness. Find it in the outer market of Tsukiji.
Take a break at Senri-ken, an oasis for weary sightseers that's been selling its seafood dishes, fried food and rice bowls since the early Taisho era. Popular menu choices include stew, cakes and coffee, but if you plan to continue wandering while you munch, we'd have to recommend the fillet cutlet sandwich. The thick slabs of breaded pork are served between two slices of buttered toast, and seasoned with a sweet and spicy sauce for a sarnie that'll leave both your taste buds and stomach satisfied.
If you've had enough sushi for a while but still crave something raw, then this store in the outer market is your stop. There's no passing on the raw oysters (¥400) – these thick, sizeable specimens are some of the freshest you'll ever find and make the perfect one-bite delicacy. Make sure to also check out the shop's Facebook and Twitter feeds for info on the latest catch.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the 'grilled tuna' advertised at this outer market shop was a savoury snack, but don't be fooled – the dish on offer is actually taiyaki, which literally means grilled sea bream, but is actually a fish-shaped dessert that consists of a pancake shell filled with red bean paste. Sanoki-ya's 'tuna' version gets its thick body, which is shaped a little like a tuna fish. If you're in the mood for something fruity, you can also sample the 'medium-fatty tuna' dessert, made from apricots.
Don't expect dainty bites here – the onigiri at Marutoyo come in one size, and one size only: large. The store carries a wide assortment of rice balls, all filled with Tsukiji-appropriate fillings, including roasted fatty mackerel, shiokara (salted fish innards), nintama miso, oyster, octopus, and clams. The one that's most likely to satisfy, though, is the shachi-ten, a rice ball filled with a whole fried shrimp.
As one of Japan's more decadent treats, eel is usually one of the less wallet-friendly items on the menu. This speciality shop doesn't treat its eel as a luxury item, though, instead cooking up a variety of styles to enjoy in a relaxed setting. Inside, you can sample their eel rice bowls (or ‘giga’ sized eel over rice if you're feeling especially gluttonous), among other dishes, but for a quick, cheap snack, you can't beat their grilled eel skewers (¥100), which come in both plain and sauce-slathered varieties.
A true Tsukiji classic, this purveyor of meat over rice keeps things simple. There are only five counter seats and space for perhaps 20 standing patrons, and practically every customer orders the same thing: the 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.
A kujira (whale) shop – the only one within the Tsukiji outer market – that has been consistently stocking whale meat for the past 30 years. It's not for everyone, of course, but if you want to sample fresh whale sashimi, tartare or other dishes, then this is the place to do it. The storefront is lined with kujira cutlets, rice bowls, bacon, curries and more – if you're finding choosing difficult, try the crunchy and aromatic fried kujira.
It's not all fish on a stick at Tsukiji, round off (or kick off) a visit to the market at this Namiyoke-dori bread shop, where you can perk up your morning with freshly baked pastries and freshly brewed coffee. For a Western snack with a Japanese twist, you can't go wrong with their red bean-paste croissants, but if you're looking for something especially decadent, then their cream filled vanilla croissants are also worth a go. From the savoury side of the counter, the potato curry pies and simple, yet delicious, whole grain egg sandwich should satisfy.