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.


Artichokes, the Military Vegetable Continuation

Because life is a strange and wonderful thing, I found myself back in Rome for a training during artichoke season six months after figuring out that artichoke season exists.


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Here they are, all “dressed up like warrior[s], standing at attention.” (Pablo Neruda)

I ordered Carciofi alla Guidia, or Jewish-style artichokes, at Giggetto in the Jewish ghetto of Rome, the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world.


While we were eating, an elderly gentleman came in with an acoustic guitar and crooned to us Dean Martin songs, “Volare” and “That’s Amore.”  It’s not that Michelangelo’s muscular deities of the Sistine Chapel and Bernini’s ability to carve movement into marble aren’t testaments to human creation and achievement and commitment.  It’s just that the artichoke recipes of Rome are as beautiful a contribution to the human culture.  At least as beautiful of a contribution.  Maybe even more beautiful.  As Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari wrote, “What is the glory of Dante compared to spaghetti?”


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“Scale by scale we strip off the delicacy and eat…” Carciofi alla Guidia: better than Bernini. Probably.


I also ordered Carciofi alla Romana in the very, very pink Edoardo II.  I can also recommend the Gnocchi alla Casa.  Because it was delicious.




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The “peaceful green mush of the artichoke’s green heart.” Carciofi alla Romana: better than Michelangelo. Most likely.

For more historical information about the Campagna where the artichokes are grown, I recommend this article published in the New York Times in 1983 by the late Paul Hofmann.

As far as recipes go, I have broken my own tender green heart trying to cook Carciofi alla Guidia more than once, but if you want to rally yourself to try and fry a few in your kitchen, Joan Nathan adapts the recipe to American artichokes in her recipe.  For my kitchen, I plan on experimenting with Carciofi alla Romana, and I’m going to slightly adapt Stevie Parle’s recipe from Real Cooking, Near and Far.


Carciofi alla Romana

  • 5-6 artichokes
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat of a knife, with the peels removed
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

Trim the stalk of your artichokes, scrape out the choke, and snip off the pokies on the flower end.To boil your artichokes, Parle recommends putting them in a pot that will  “hold your artichokes snugly with their stalks in the air so they won’t topple over.”  I’m going to allow myself some leeway on this, as I don’t think I own such a pot.  After you’ve settled your artichokes in as best you can, add the parsley, mint, garlic, white wine, and olive oil.  Add enough water to the pot “to reach just below where the heart turns to the stalk.”  Steam on medium heat for about 20 minutes, being careful to replenish the water if it all evaporates before then.  When the hearts are soft, take the lid off and increase the heat so that the artichokes begin to brown.  Serve and eat.