Food Chronicles of Japan, Chapter 1: Tokyo Fish Market

There aren’t many food places in this world as mythical as the Tokyo Fish Market.  Here, all the strangely alien beings from the other side of the ocean are dredged up to meet the eater face to face, eyeball to eyeball.

Powerful, silver, muscled food.  Pablo Neruda, my favorite culinary poet, calls the tuna a “torpedo from the ocean” and “the only true machine of the sea: unflawed, undefiled, navigating now the waters of death.”

Too many tuna are now navigating the waters of death.  The Tokyo Fish Market processes 2000 tons of fish per day, and we are eating are way to the end of this species. Once again, hunger is destroying.


On one side is the imminent disappearance of a species, and on the other side is the honed cultural art form of sushi making.  Just as in another era, the samurai were driven towards achieving perfection in the art of war, sushi chefs such as the legendary Jiro are driven towards an ephemeral ideal in the art of sushi making.

Jiro Dreams Of Sushi – Trailer from curious on Vimeo.

Oishi, or 美味し, means delicious. And, unfortunately for the blue-fin, it is oishi.

Different types of pepper for sale in the market.

List of Foods I Ate in the Tokyo Fish Market:

  • Pear Juice
  • The biggest fresh oyster of my life with lemon juice
  • Some jelly soy roasted green tea things on a stick, that was apparently the favorite of a famous Shogun whose name I forgot
  • A tiny boiled lobster
  • A white strawberry
  • Sweet egg omelet with seaweed
  • Big, steaming pork bun
  • Roasted green tea
  • Squid jerkey, which was a big hit with the students
Whole baby boiled lobster for $10.00. At times like this, I know that I could be happy living in Japan forever.
Fresh oysters larger than my palm for about $4. Certainly the biggest oyster I’ve ever eaten.


40 Days: Vitality

 “Let us live while we live.”


-Philip Doddridge (1764)

One of the challenges of the 40 days is the struggle to bring concrete meaning to abstract ideas.  I am in the second week, the week of vitality.  And I’m finding it a little difficult to wrap my mind around what vitality actually is.  I know that the word “vitality” comes from the Latin word for “life.”  When I think of vitality, I think of green first, then I think of many different colors.  Baptiste, the main 40 days instigator, doesn’t spend a whole lot of time actually defining vitality, but he mentions that a person doesn’t have to go on vacation to find vitality within themselves.  And earlier this week, one of my many yoga teachers said that there is vitality in backbends because in backbends we open ourselves up to the world.


The vitality of thought is adventure. Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.


-Alfred North Whitehead

But none of this is enough for me.  I still am uncertain about what vitality looks like, concretely.  Vitality is energy, and vitality is life.  Life is the blood pumping away in our veins.  Vitality seems such an elusive thing, something fleeting and hard to grab a hold of.  And even though I don’t completely understand what it is, I’m pretty sure I could use some more of it.

Blood vessels in the human body. Photo credit:

“What hunger is in relation to food, zest is in relation to life.”


-Bertrand Russel, The Conquest of Happiness (1930)


Here’s a question:

What brings you vitality?  

Here is another question, possibly the same question, but certainly more dangerous than the first:

Why do you wake up in the morning? 

My List of Vitals*

  • coffee
  • hot chocolate
  • lemonade
  • travel
  • seeing something old in a new way
  • memories
  • making meaning from travel and memories
  • writing
  • making cookies
  • researching things I care about
  • dancing
  • learning new things
  •  the way the sun looks on old wood floors at 4:00 in the afternoon
  • words
  • books
  • the way deciduous trees look when they are naked in the winter
  • the way deciduous trees sound when they are full of leaves in the summer
  • the way deciduous leaves smell in the fall
  • bonfires
  • meteor showers
  • hyacinths
  • all things citrus, actually
  • curiosity, and questions of all kinds
  • the books I read when I was little
  • dark chocolate
  • bike rides
  • drinking beer in the sun
  • drinking champagne on the seaside
  • drinking anything with friends
  • the clear color of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea
  • crisp shadows of blades of grass across concrete
  • the way shattered glass looks under a streetlamp
  • the way falling rain and falling snow look under a streetlamp
  • the way sand looks under a microscope
  • farmer’s markets
  • edible leaves
  • salads
  • pomegranate seeds

*This list is a working draft.  I don’t expect it to ever be complete.

Baron Baptiste has a much clearer idea of what vitality means when it comes to food. According to Baptiste, fresh fruits and vegetables have vitality.

Part of vitality may be finding beauty in the ordinary. Maybe.  Photo credit:

Baptiste references the produce in Chinatown markets, which I know from experience is definitely worth appreciating.  I’ve taken the liberty of scrolling through my archives and compiling a list of recipes that bring concrete ingredients to the nebulous idea of vitality.

Recipe #1:  Avocado, Peach, and Blackberry Salad

As revealed by my over-enthusiastic use of a filter on the photo, this recipe is from the deep archives, originally published in 2013.  But it is still delicious.  I think, in my older maturity and wisdom, I would rather add thyme as my leaf of choice to add to this fruit salad.  There’s just something about thyme and blackberry together.  Something vital, I guess.

Boqueria Market in Barcelona.

Recipe #2:  Thai Salad

The whole thai basil, mint, mung bean sprouts, lime, sesame seed oil, fish sauce, avocado flavor profile is one that I love to compose on a fresh green leaf canvas.  The only thing that would make this salad even better would be some rice noodles and grilled chicken.  Thai chilies or cracked red pepper could probably create more vitality.  Whatever that means.


The Stomach of Barcelona


Before I saw the Boqueria Market, I heard about the colors.  All of the colors of all of the fruit in the world. And I read that the market was the stomach of Barcelona.



I wandered my way into the Boqueria market on my first day in Barcelona, and I returned to the market ever   y day I was in the city. I drank freshly squeezed kiwi juice, ate tiny yellow plums, and ordered a parrillada verdura from one of the stands that grill up the fresh fish and harvestings of the market. It reminded me how much beauty there is in simplicity if you have good ingredients and a little bit of technique.


My grilled vegetables were pimiente de padron, charred on a high heat, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, red pepper, and Chinese eggplant. All grilled in olive oil, doused in a bit more after the cooking, and sprinkled with the flakiest salt. Simple.image

I learned from this meal, I learned a lesson that I think I have learned many times before, but I keep forgetting. I’ll be imitating this meal in my kitchen for a long time.