Sushi Dai at Tsukiji Fish Market

Aji nigiri (Japanese horse mackerel) at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Aji nigiri (Japanese horse mackerel) at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.

When I think of Japanese food, I automatically think of sushi.  So naturally when planning my trip to Japan, having authentic Japanese sushi was one of the things I was most excited about.  I heard that the best of the best was at a little restaurant called Sushi Dai at the Tsukiji Fish Market, but in order to avoid a long wait to get in we’d have be at restaurant by 6 a.m.

That’s right, we’d be having sushi for breakfast.

Maki sushi rolls at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Sushi rolls served with each meal at Sushi Dai.

We arrived at Tsukiji Fish Market around 7 a.m., well aware that we missed the target time slot to avoid a line.  The market was bustling full of hand carts and motorized trucks zipping every which way and people dashing in and out of alleys carrying large Styrofoam crates of seafood.

We searched row after row of shops and restaurants but couldn’t find Sushi Dai.  Eventually we got side-tracked by some seriously delicious ramen, but once our bellies were full of noodles and pork we were on the hunt again.  Finally, we stumbled upon a tiny alley with a line stretching around the corner.  It had to be Sushi Dai…

The rumored best sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan.

One of the many alleyways at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.
One of the many alleyways at Tsukiji Fish Market.

Now 8 o’clock in the morning, the people at the front of the line reported they’d been in line for over an hour and were still happily waiting.  We jumped right in behind them.  After all, we were in Japan and couldn’t miss the opportunity to have some of the world’s best sushi.

The line in front of Sushi Dai at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.
The line in front of Sushi Dai continued around the corner.

We waited for two hours, dizzied by the smell of motor cart exhaust and entertained by the ferocious activity of the fish market.  Somehow we never got impatient.  Once inside, the restaurant was a tiny sushi bar with seating for 13 people.

Three chefs happily danced behind the counter, greeting people in both English and Japanese while laughing and creating precisely formed rolls of rice and flopping fresh fish on top.  Two waitresses scurried about, bringing miso soup and green tea to visitors — or in our case, Kirin beer.  (Hey, it might have been 10 a.m. in Tokyo but it was 8 p.m. in Salt Lake City!)

The tiny sushi bar of Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Sushi Dai, in all its (tiny) glory.

The menu has two options: the chef omakase, or chef’s choice: ten pieces of sushi plus one roll and one sushi of your choice (3,900 yen), or the standard option: seven pieces of sushi plus one roll (2,500 yen).  A build-your-own option was available, but not recommended.  All come with miso soup and green tea.

My dad ordered the omakase, my mom and I picked the standard, plus I ordered some sea urchin sashimi.  (The below photos are a combination of both options.)  Not only was the sushi delicious, it was beautiful. 

So without further delay, I give you the delicious beauty of Sushi Dai:

 

Tamago at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Tamago, served warm.
Fatty tuna nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Fatty tuna.
Braided Spanish Mackerel nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Spanish Mackerel, braided.

 

The bites of sushi continued, some fish I’d never eaten before, some in ways I’d never seen before.

Nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
This may have been a type of shellfish.
Uni at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Uni, one of my favorite types of sushi.
Tuna nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Tuna with a dab of wasabi.
Yellowtail nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Yellowtail.
Clam nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
I think the chef said this was a clam. It arrived alive and moving.
Sea eel nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyko.
Sea Eel.
Baby shrimp nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Baby shrimp.
Nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Sadly, I can’t remember this one.

At the end of our sushi feast, we were definitely stuffed. We’d had familiar fish and sushi we’d never tasted before. But was it the best?  Or more importantly, was it worth the two-hour wait?

Absolutely.

The texture of the fish, even those I was familiar with, was unlike any I have ever had.  Even the seaweed lacked the stretchy, awkward texture that I was used to, and softly broke when I bit into it.  Many pieces of fish simply melted in my mouth, creating more of a sensation than a burst of flavor.  It was like experiencing sushi for the first time.

Sardine nigiri at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Sardine.

The service was equally outstanding.  We especially enjoyed our chef, who kept us entertained while offering advice (like explicitly instructing us not to use soy sauce on several pieces).  Halfway through the meal he asked if the three of us were related and couldn’t believe my mom and I were mother and daughter, thanks to her blonde hair and my black hair.

Our waitress was just as sweet; as I went to pay at the end of the meal, still new to yen, she helped dig around in my wallet for the correct amount.

Uni sashimi at Sushi Dai in Tokyo.
Uni sashimi (ordered separately from the omakase).

Unfortunately, I don’t think sushi in the United States — or anywhere outside of Japan for that matter — will ever be the same for me.  If I’m lucky, I’ll never forget what the sushi at Sushi Dai tasted like, or the experience of being there.

If you ever get a chance to go to Tsukiji Fish Market, I highly recommend taking the trouble to find Sushi Dai and waiting in line.  Bring a book, bring an iPad and wear your standing shoes but do whatever you have to do to get in that restaurant.  It will forever change sushi for you!

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