My experience at Sushi Dai was pretty much the pièce de résistance of this trip when it came to trying sushi. This place is über famous amongst foreign tourists, so much so the local tourists have caught on too. The sushi here has always been good but the queues just got longer over the years. Another well-loved eaterie is just a few doors down (called Daiwa Sushi) but has a shorter queue (it is said that Dai is a little cheaper for what you get). So, Daiwa will be great for the impatient, or for those who had just come out from the tuna auction only to find it takes 3-4 hours just to eat at Dai.

I wasn’t planning on going. A Japanese friend told me that if I were to have sushi for asagohan at a market, it will be really fresh fish and you will get the best. Hence, any sushi place at Tsukiji would do. Right? But then, I was already in Tōkyō – why settle for less? And better still, queuing up at dawn means I won’t be wasting time as nothing would be open anyway. Fast forward to Tuesday night, a cab was booked for me at 4:30 AM the following morning[1]. Then something struck me – I was told not to eat sushi on a particular day of the week as when the market closes, any sushi served on that day is ‘less’ fresh. I looked it up on Google and noted that Tsukiji is shut on some Wednesdays. Dang. A further search showed that it shuts on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month. Looked at the calendar and I was so relieved that the following day was the first Wednesday. Result!

By the time I got to the queue at 5 AM, I was told by one the ladies from Dai who checks on the queue that it’ll be over an hour’s wait. To know that you are at Dai – they have a green noren. Also, it helps to go to the front of the queue and ask the other punters. That morning my 寿司大は、ここですか 痔 did the trick just fine. That’s nothing compared to the 3 hours that people have done. Time passed by pretty quick as I got chatting to a tourist couple from DC. Whilst waiting, we were given cups of hot ocha. The morning wasn’t that chilly and it was a pleasant enough wait. Next to me was a group of Japanese girls and from their conversation it transpired that this was a birthday morning out for one of them. If the locals are doing the 5 AM thing, I was in for a treat.

A treat it was. We were welcomed by the three chefs with a hearty irrasshaimase and ohaiyo gozaimasu. During the queue, I chose the おまかせ (omakase)[2] 10-piece option for 4000円. It wasn’t until I was comfortably seated that I noticed some of the customers in the queue after us were looking in from the outside[3]. Anyway, the chef serving me was the one in the middle with the glasses. He would describe each nigiri as he passed it to me, most of which with the phrase ‘no sauce’. An accomplished sushi chef would have prepared the sushi perfectly, in terms of the size of the neta in relation to the rice, and the amount of wasabi added. The first piece was the glorious おとろ (ōtoro, or fatty tuna), a piece of tuna belly that is the fattiest. And expensive (I hear it’s RM220 for 5 slices in KL). It was a tad stringier (it’s the fat) than I thought although the edges of the ōtoro did give the ‘melt in the mouth’ feeling. And the chef was right – no added shōyu was needed and I didn’t even ask for extra wasabi on the side.

Next came the 中とろ (chūtoro, or medium fat tuna) – well, I think – followed by うに in gunkan form (uni, or sea urchin). Now, I had my reservations with uni as my previous experience in KL of this was somewhat equivocal. All my worries were laid to rest, as it was absolutely gorgeous. It had a tinge of sweetness and I am so partial towards a gunkan due to the crispiness of the nori wrapped around the rice. The names of some of the nigiri that was passed on by the chef escaped me but it didn’t matter, but I was sure I had 鰆 (sawara – Spanish mackerel) next. The garlic/sliced ?spring onion complemented the so not fishy taste of the mackerel. Mackerel in the UK has always been fishy despite tons of tamarind! The 白海老 (shiraebi, or baby shrimp) was the one that really melted in my mouth and this was followed by Japanese jack mackerel (あじ – aji). It was partially split and had finely chopped garlic and ginger on it, giving it a zing to its overall flavour. The one I was so looking forward to came next – the 北寄貝 (hokkigai, or surf clam). It was still moving and the chef didn’t really have to tell me “still alive!”. I said my bismillah (gently thought to myself “sorry Mr Clam for what I am about to do”). No, it didn’t wriggle down my throat. It was the softest clam I ever had – those springy akagai in the UK are just rub… now, now.

The next bit were two chunky slices of steaming hot tamago (omelette) which everyone gets. The marinaded maguro (“no sauce!”) had a little bit of extra zing due to the wasabi but I didn’t care. Another regular was the set of four makimonos (巻物) that contained maguro (巻物 – Bluefin tuna) and roe. The next one the white-fleshed 穴子 (anago -Conger eel) with shōyu on it. The tenth piece was one that I could choose, so I was handed a list. By that time, I was like “are we at the end already?”. I even switched my camera on and counted each piece. It was my tenth piece sadly. As it was a chef’s choice, I may have not eaten all the sushi that was on offer (I didn’t have any squid or bonito, to name two) or I could ask for a repeat of one of the pieces I had. I opted for the latter – and enjoyed my second piece of ōtoro. I saw the chef nodded in agreement to my wise *koff* choice.

It was 4000円 and two ungodly hours well spent. I have to add that the miso shiru (it had fish) was second to none and I really welcomed the ocha refill. Would I queue again? Yes, I would. See you in December, and I may just bring some friends with me.

5-2-1 Tsukiji Fish Market
#6 Bldg.
Tōkyō 104-0045

[1]He was already waiting for me in front of the hotel at quarter past.
[2]The ‘trust the chef’ option.
[3]Now this is what it feels like to be stared at like a zoo animal. Heh.
[4]You want directions? Here’s how to find it. The red squiggle is the guard house and follow the line to Building No.6.