Out of all the mouth-watering places to eat in Tokyo the most recent that played to my taste buds like a harp and made me want to sing for days was a sushi restaurant called Sushi Dai.
An Introduction to Sushi
Now I eat and breathe sashimi, which is the Japanese word for raw sliced fish. Not only is it one of the more sophisticated tastes of one’s palate with, when done right, an almost creamy yet crisp texture it is actually so damn good for you! It has even be penned as ‘Smart Fuel’ by Mark of Marks Daily Apples due to its sensational concoction of the essential fatty acids and nutrients with no carbohydrates and loads of protein it serves as perfect sustenance. I wouldn’t go as far as turning to an all sashimi diet just yet, as there are a few risks in case the fish hasn’t been handled properly or it might have been fished from uncertified or unsustainable areas so it can contain a lot of bacteria. However rest assured the chefs at Sushi Dai are experts at their trade and they do deliver when it comes to their art.
As opposed to Sashimi, sushi is the inclusion of the tantalizing sashimi (it might be salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc) with a small pad of glistening rice with a touch of vinegar of which it rests upon like a little pillow. This may be different to what we are more used to in a western country where our idea of sushi is served in a form of sushi roll that might have smoked salmon, chicken teriyaki or tuna with mayo. However, even the contemporary sushi found in Japan is different to its ancestors about 1200 years ago when sushi meant fermented fish with a very bitter and sour flavor (I have tried it and believe me today’s sushi is a lot better!).
Tokyo’s Tsukiji Markets, home of Sushi Dai
Anyway, the little rice pillows with sliced sashimi are what you will come across at Sushi Dai. Sushi Dai is located inside the Tsukiji Fish Markets in the Minato district (another special ward of Tokyo) that is bordered by Tokyo Bay on one side that opens up to the North Pacific Ocean and serves as the perfect dock that supplies the freshest, largest and broadest variety of fish to Tokyo. The Tsukiji Markets have a long and respected history as well. In short, it is one of the oldest markets in Japan and has been serving Tokyoians and even the Emperor and his family for generations. Inside the markets there are many little shops that sell fresh produce and even restaurants that get their supplies pretty much directly from the ocean. This ensures that each Head chef gets his hands on the freshest of produce, sometimes before it has even hit the mainland!
Early morning start to Eat at Sushi Dai
Though I will warn you, you will need to get there exceptionally early for even a chance to enter Sushi Dai. When I was researching the Sushi-ya (ya means shop in this context in Japanese) I found that the restaurant is so lucrative yet traditional that it doesn’t even have an official website so instead I turned to review sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp and I found that, yes, the restaurant is amazing and a must-go but it will take you two and half to three hours of lining up to enter. It get’s worse. The restaurant opens at 5 am! That means we had to wake up at the crack of dawn to even eat sushi and at that point it would become breakfast sushi. Though due to it’s reviews, due to my love of sushi and food, due to the fact that you only live once and also the fact that the original Tsukiji markets will be relocating soon to make room for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics (only to about a block away but still) we set our alarm clocks to 5am and made the red-eyed journey to the markets.
Once we made it to the outskirts of the market we couldn’t figure out how to get in but there are entrance gates on all four sides of the markets. Though be careful for grumpy Japanese fishermen who are driving miniature forklifts it honestly looked like bumper cars from my point of view. You will see small buildings scattered around the place and you are looking for the one numbered 6 and Sushi Dai (寿司大) is just on the corner. We ended up having to wait for five hours but it was still worth it. I’ve heard that over the winter or during off-peak season the line is much shorter.
The restaurant itself only holds around 8-10 people at a time but every single person receives a very personal experience. The three sushi chefs on premises make the sushi in front of you and place it on the table, you do not get a plate. As they make it you eat it. I settled for the 11-piece omakase menu, in which you receive 10 pieces of sushi at the chef’s discretion and you receive 1 piece in which you get to choose. It came to around 4000 yen ($45AUD).
My favourite was the otoro, the fatty tuna, it just melted in my mouth and you could taste the fatty protein filled richness of the flesh just dissolve on your tongue. It truly is an experience. I also ordered the uni, or sea urchin. I also quite enjoyed the chutoro, or lean tuna, it was a little bit chewier but was still softer than anything I have tasted before; you almost didn’t need teeth. In other words, if the sushi were any fresher, the fish would still be alive.
Proper way to Eat Sushi
Sushi is the original and traditional form of fast food in Japan. So it is meant to be eaten on the go at little sushi bars like the one at Sushi Dai. Due to this, the proper way to eat sushi is all in one go and to also place the sashimi side of the sushi on your tongue not the rice! Even though the sashimi sits on the rice to begin with. I wanted to savour the taste so I was eating it in halves and I was told very politely that the proper way was to eat it in one go, but that I could eat it whichever way I felt comfortable. But hey, when in Rome do as the Romans do.
I think it’s also good to note that the chefs were remarkably friendly and their grasp on English was pretty good. They were willing to have a chat or share a joke with anybody!
After the flavourful assault on our taste buds we were out of the place by 11.30am and headed straight home to get some sleep. Our bellies were full and we were as satisfied as a bunch of foodies can be!
Check out Sushi Dai and don’t let the waiting times haunt you. It really is astounding and Japanese people from around Japan, Tokyoians and tourists from all around the world line up because it is worth the wait and the best Sushi I have ever tasted (and I have had my fair share of it!). I also recommend going to Sushi Dai the day or the day before you leave Tokyo just so the flavour is still at the tip of your tongue and you leave Japan in good vibes!
Quick Notes for Sushi Dai
Location: Minato-District of Tokyo inside the Tsukiji Markets. Located inside Building 6 in the corner shop.
Times: serving from 5am to 4pm or until they run out of fresh fish (Get there early for the first catch of the day!)
Access: Best by taxi, as trains or subways aren’t running that early in the morning. However it is accessible by the Metro’s Tokyo Oedo Line and Hibiya Line at Tsukiji Shijo Staton or Tsujiki Station, respectively.
Price: 4000円 or around $45-50AUD for the Omakese 11 piece menu. If you are not quite satisfied you can then buy whichever sushi you like piece by piece at the price shown on the menu (They have an English menu aswell).
Love the Peckish Nomad