I just recently read Anthony Bourdain’s new book Medium Raw. The book had a chapter that discussed parts of Japan and specifically the famous Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan. He mentioned that top notch fish markets do not smell like fish and I was able to experience this first hand at the Asaichi Fish Market in Hakodate, Hokkaido. “Asa” in Japanese means “morning”. “Ichi” in Japanese means “one”. The market hums & buzzes with a raw beat early in the morning while most people are still snoring away. Apparently the market opens around 5 A.M. Of course if you are the chef of a top notch restaurant in Hakodate, you probably have some kind of a deal going on with the fish market for the best fish possible. If you are a tourist rest be assured, you will be able to still see lots of activity going on at the fish market even in the middle of the day. It’s become a hot spot for tour buses loaded with Chinese tourists and people from different countries. Regardless, GO SEE IT! Also the bonus is that the market is located steps from the train station, so you can go check in some of your luggage into their coin lockers if you have too many items to carry.
My grandmother, my mother and I started walking towards an alley way of colorful signs. You could hear the fish retailers screaming out “irashaimase” (come on in). Right as we entered, you couldn’t help but be flashed by obnoxious orange and red gigantic spider crabs! All we did was make a face of surprise and the next thing I knew I was being led into a store of giant crabs by a overbearing Japanese saleswoman. She demanded that I hold a huge dungeness crab. I motioned to her politely that I would skip the offer, but she was demanding. The next thing I knew, I was posing for a picture and holding a crab that was bigger than 2 newborn babies!
“Upon entering into the Asaichi Alley way, I was propositioned by a lady to HOLD A CRAB! Strange but true, a random lady came up to me and asked me “Are you half Japanese? Here, hold this KANI (crab).” Next thing you know, I’m holding a crab that was 8 pounds & I had to put on special gloves to hold the crab. It happened in a matter of seconds. CHEEEZU!!!!”
After the kani shenanigan, I was surrounded by crabs in every direction. I was amazed by the colors of the crab and how vivid all the displays were. The prices were quite shocking to see as well. Crabs were running about 4000 yen or higher which is anywhere from $45 to $60 and above. If you watch shows like Deadliest Sea Catch, you can understand why some of the seafood costs so much money. Back in California close to where my parents live the Native American casinos have been boasting buffets like crazy in which crab legs are quite the stir. I have to admit that I’ve been eating a lot more crab because of the casinos. So looking at this display, that is all that I could think of. Where is the clarified butter?
This is a good JAPANESE 101 lesson for people who have never experienced a fish market that sells other products like “wakame” (seaweed), “ika” (squid), “mentaiko” (marinated roe of pollock) and “kombu” (wild harvested kelp). For “old schooler” Japanese villages like my grandma, she was super excited to see quality products being sold. In Japanese culture, it is custom that if you go on a long distance trip that you bring back “omiyage” (gifts). It is custom that you bring back special regional products from the area that you traveled to. The Japanese are really good at marketing these specialty regional products. I find myself tuning in with this impulsive omiyage buying. My grandma was really torn on what to bring back from Hakodate. She was thinking about sending some of the regional crab back home through a delivery service, but it was quite expensive. She bought some kombu and some Hakodate and Sapporo ramen packages.
Here are some other snap photos of eclectic items that can be purchased at Asaichi Fish Market. My grandmother in the bottom right hand corner is sporting a backpack to buy omiyage.
The picture above shows the inside portion of the market. You can find an array of expensive wakame (seaweed). If you are staying with a Japanese family, wakame is always a great gift to bring back. A lot of times, wakame will be used to put into miso soup.
Look at this cool display of “ika” otherwise known as squid. In this case, it is dried and most likely has a salty flavor to it.
The “ika” was a pretty popular theme at this market. One of the hot spots was a place where you could play a game in which you caught your own “ika“. All the Japanese were laughing it up and hooting as they watched the “ika” spit water at tourists in its last attempt at living. After the “ika” was caught by the tourist, it became sushi, literally. There was a man set up at a kiosk station. He would take the “ika” and slice and dice it right there. It was a pretty popular tourist trap. I felt bad for the “ika“.
The only thing that really upset me and literally pissed me off was the restaurant that served whale. If you have seen Whale Wars on tv, you know what I am talking about. The Japanese are notorious for hunting for whales. Their ships claim that they are doing “scientific studies”, but really they are killing whales. Here is living proof! If you look at the picture on the left it says “Kujira-ya”. This is a WHALE RESTAURANT. I was going to walk in and ask questions, but I didn’t want to start any problems.