Travelers visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan, typically have two things in mind: attending the famous tuna auction and/or eating at one of the market’s best sushi joints, like Sushi Dai. No matter which you choose, you’ll need to either stay up all night or be a real morning person.
Last month, the team of Our Tasty Travels was back in Japan and we made an attempt at hitting the tuna auction — which is selling out even earlier than the recommended arrival times (by 3:15am all spots were gone). Since we were already up and out at such an ungodly hour, we decided to make the most of things and headed over to jump in line for what many consider to be the best sushi joint in Tsukiji Fish Market — Sushi Dai.
Lines for Sushi Dai start forming sometimes as early as 3am for a 5am open time. Even if you get there at 3am, you may be in line for at least three or more hours. I believe Sushi Dai has around 12 seats and they don’t seat parties as they come and go. Everyone is seated at the same time for each group of 12 — and the time inside averages about 45 minutes so it’s easy to count people in line to see how soon you might get in.
We hopped in line around 4:15am and we got seated around 7:15am — the fourth group to be seated. While standing in line for three hours might seem ridiculous, we actually had a great time. We met some nice people and talked a lot about food travel and travel in general. One guy was from Canada, a few more from San Francisco, and even one from Taiwan, where we used to live.
Some people do give up and go next door to Daiwa Sushi, which many others think is the best sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market. When we first got in the Sushi Dai line, there were only a couple people in line for Daiwa Sushi; however, by the time 7am rolled around, it was packed as well.
As you stand in line, someone will eventually come out and ask what you plan to order. There is a 2,600 yen set that includes 7 pieces of nigiri, maki rolls, miso, rolled egg, and miso soup. My recommendation is the 4,000 yen Omakase set. Omakase basically means “chef’s choice,” or “trust the chef.” The Omakase set includes 10 pieces of nigiri, 1 bonus piece, maki rolls, miso soup, and rolled egg.
So, what does 4+ hours in line get you? Some pretty amazing sushi actually.
Rolled Egg or Omelet
Sushi Dai’s Fatty Tuna is the one piece of sushi I hear people prefer at Daiwa Sushi next door. I’ve seen pictures, and it definitely seems like a larger, thicker, and fattier piece of Otoro. Sushi Dai was definitely tasty, but I wish I had time to also try Daiwa Sushi to make a real comparison.
Sea Bass Nigiri
Golden Eye Snapper, or Kinmedai, Nigiri
Saury is a seasonal fish and quite popular in parts of Asia, especially Japan. It resembles mackerel, but is not related. The taste is still quite fishy, but I like mackerel so I really enjoyed this. The Pacific Saury are typically found between August and December. It’s not uncommon to find it cooked whole in Japanese restaurants, especially some in Taiwan.
Salmon Roe is admittedly one of the few things I am not a fan of when it comes to eating sushi. I knew going into this and choosing Omakase, it was likely going to make an appearance. I mentally prepared myself and found this one was incredible. The roe had a much more subtle flavor as compared to the other times I’ve had it.
Spanish Mackerel, or Aji
Sea Urchin, or Uni
One thing my favorite sushi chefs have taught me over the years is to be selective when it comes to eating Uni, or sea urchin. When it’s not fresh, both the smell and flavor can be very overwhelming. Next to the time years ago when my chef opened a sea urchin and scraped it out onto my plate, this is the best Uni I’ve had.
Giant clam is always intriguing since it is typically still moving when it’s served. Give it a few seconds if the idea of putting it in your mouth while still moving freaks you out some.
Anago, or Salt Walter Eel
Sea eels are commonly seen on sushi menus, and you may find Anago, a salt water eel, or Unagi, a fresh water eel. Anago tends to be a little less oily than Unagi. Unagi is often grilled or barbecued with a sweet sauce. The Anago at Sushi Dai, still had a sweet taste, but more subtle.
Extra Sushi Choices — Shirako and Giant Scallop
Living in Taiwan for four years certainly opened my mind to becoming a more adventurous eater. For my extra piece of sushi, I chose Shirako, or cod sperm sac. The first time I had it was with a friend while dining in her favorite sushi joint in Taipei. She did all the ordering and did not tell me what it was before eating it, otherwise I probably would’ve never tried it. The guy I met from Canada next to me also tried it — I think we might have been the only ones as most people opted for another piece of the fatty tuna or the giant scallop, which came highly recommended.
Many people say Shirako is an acquired taste — I think the consistency alone is enough to turn the stomaches of many diners. Personally, I like the milky consistency and the contrast between its subtle sweetness and the salty seaweed. Some people say serving shirako as a nigiri takes real talent as a sushi chef, and given Shirako’s consistency, I can see why!
Additional Information on Visiting Sushi Dai
If you get in to see the Tsukiji Tuna Auction and then head to Sushi Dai, expect a really long wait (probably 4-5 hours minimum). Bring a book to read, money to buy coffee or beer from the neighboring businesses if you want, and plan to settle in for a long wait. One of the most important things to note, Sushi Dai does not accept credit cards.
When it comes to taking photos, be respectful and try to keep up with the group. Since everyone is seated together, if you are the last ones there because you’re taking a lot of photos, the people outside won’t be very happy obviously. It’s VERY tiny inside so I wouldn’t recommend a big DSLR as you’re elbow to elbow with people. There are racks where you can store bags and backpacks behind you.
The chefs all speak very good English along with a few other languages. The chefs are also great at walking you through every piece of fish and explaining when and when not to use Soy Sauce.
Wear appropriate shoes and clothing. You will be on the outskirts of the working fish market so it’s wet, messy, and you’ll be dodging carts, vehicles, and other motorized machinery. Bring a jacket and umbrella as there is no real place to get out from the rain if it cuts loose while you’re in line.
Planning a trip to Japan? Find a Tokyo Hotel near Tsukiji Fish Market!
Sushi Dai is open 5am to 2pm, in conjunction with the days Tsukiji Fish Market is open. That means no Sundays and certain Wednesdays when Tsukiji is closed. The Fish Market is supposed to be relocated in early 2016 so I have no idea whether Sushi Dai will still be located there or whether it will move when the fish market does.
How to Get to Sushi Dai
The easiest way to reach Sushi Dai is via the Hibya Subway Line (Tsukiji Station) or Oedo Subway Line (Tsukiji Shijo Station). Tsukijo Shijo exit A1 is right at the fish market, near the entrance to the restaurant area. from Tsukiji Station, take exit 1 and continue down a block and a half, past the corridors of the outer market, until you see the entrance to turn left into the market where the restaurants are. Note that the subways don’t run all night, so if you do want to be at the market in time to try for tickets for the auction or to be one of the first in line for Sushi Dai, you should stay nearby, or plan to take a taxi.
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