Fish market that sustained the diet of the people of Edo (former name for Tokyo)
The fish market in Tokyo is one of the world’s largest fish markets, and fish and shellfish caught throughout Japan are presented here. Its origin was “Uogashi” in Nihonbashi, which was the center of Edo in the Edo period (1603-1867). This fish market, which was at the foot of Nihonbashi, sustained the diet of Tokyo for over 300 years until it was finally transferred to the Tsukiji Market in 1935. Not only the fish from the seas and rivers of Edo, but also those from the wide areas that are currently known such as Chiba, Kanagawa, and Shizuoka were carried over to the market, filling the bellies of the townspeople and Samurais of Edo.
Uogashi has developed from one era to the other, and now it is one of the largest fish markets in the world, bringing together fish from all around the world. Fish and shellfish landed at fishing ports inside and outside of Japan go through local fishermen’s cooperatives and intermediate wholesaler markets and reach the mouths of consumers via fish stores and restaurants.
Food Culture of Edo, Food Culture of Tokyo
Dishes that shaped modern Japanese food culture were born in the Edo period. Back in those days, Edo was one of world’s largest cities and it is said that its population was 800,000 or 1 million. Diverse culture was born during a period of stability that lasted 265 years, including the culture of fish cuisine.
Eel, sushi, and tempura are leading examples of the fish food culture born in the Edo period. One of the reasons why these dishes were developed is the popularization of seasonings. The essential seasoning for these fish dishes is soy sauce. Soy sauce, which is a fermented food, became available to common people because of the climate and water transportation in the Kanto area (around Edo), as well as development of the production technology of soy sauce. As for vinegar, the essential seasoning for sushi, people started to mix vinegar with rice at the end of the Edo period, leading to the current “hand-pressed sushi.”
Hand-pressed sushi first appeared around 1820. At the end of Edo period, sushi shops where the chefs made sushi in front of the customers became very popular. Even in Japan, only certain people such as fishermen used to eat raw fish, but it became common thanks to the development of the low temperature distribution network and the popularization of soy sauce. Now it is loved worldwide as the most common form of raw fish cuisine.
Cooking techniques and attention to hygiene of restaurants that serve raw fish
For some tourists visiting Japan, sushi will be their first experience of eating raw fish. There are various fish cuisine restaurants in Tokyo, from budget-friendly ones to exclusive ones, according to your budget and purpose. Nihombashi’s “Shigenozushi” was established as a fish store when there was Nihombashi Uogashi in Edo. Shigenozushi has transitioned into a famous sushi restaurant and has preserved its history over 80 years. Because of their good judgment of the quality of fish, Shigenozushi has been an official purveyor of the Imperial Household Agency (to purvey articles to the Imperial Palace, where the Emperor of Japan lives). You can enjoy sushi made by master sushi chefs with great skill in a comfortable atmosphere and have a relaxing time. This will definitely be an experience to cherish when visiting Japan.
Tuna is the most popular topping for sushi. You can taste red flesh tuna or fatty tuna, selected using excellent skill in judging their quality.
Actually, back in the days of the Edo period, when there was no refrigeration equipment, tuna was considered to be a low-grade fish because it tended to lose its flavor quickly. Red flesh tuna was commonly eaten marinated in soy sauce, which is called “zuke.” Raw tuna became available to everyone as it is now only in modern times, when refrigeration technology has been developed and hygiene control has become well managed.
Sushi restaurants that serve raw fish prepared by bare hand keep very strict hygiene control. If you sit at the counter seating, you will do well to watch the movement of the hands of sushi chefs carefully. You can see that they casually put water on their hands just before making sushi. This is “Tezu”, a water and vinegar mixture. The vinegar used is the same as the vinegar used to make Gari (thinly sliced ginger pickled in sweetened vinegar, served with sushi). It has the sterilizing effect of vinegar, and also makes it easier to make sushi because it prevents rice from sticking to the hands.
At sushi restaurants, simple movements like this are related to hygiene control. This obviously includes washing hands before entering the kitchen, but also involves cleaning the restaurant and maintenance of cooking utensils. Hygiene control is ingrained in master sushi chefs. The hygiene control and techniques of sushi are inseparable, ensuring that customers will enjoy delicious dishes.
Approaches to food hygiene in Tokyo
For everyone to really enjoy delicious meals, it is essential to ensure safety with thorough hygiene control. Tokyo will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, and the number of tourists from both inside and outside of Japan is increasing, so food safety and security are required now more than ever.
Under these circumstances, Tokyo is fully prepared. Japan’s food sanitation laws and regulations are already at the world-class level. Furthermore, Tokyo has established its own Tokyo Metropolitan Food Safety Promotion Plan and is making effort to ensure the safety of food at all stages, from production to consumption, by cooperating with each organization.
In addition to inspection of perishable food and confirmation of sanitary conditions in markets/food manufacturing facilities and restaurants, this activity extends to all steps regarding food, including publicity activities, testing and research, crisis management systems for times of emergency, and measures for ensuring proper labeling of food. In order to carry this out, qualified food hygiene inspectors and researchers who belong to Wholesale Market Hygiene Inspection Stations, the Institute of Public Health, and Healthcare Centers perform their duties every day.
This activity is often unnoticed by the general public, but it supports food safety in Tokyo, where fish and shellfish are consumed like no other place in the world.
Tokyo Food Hygiene Meister System
Moreover, there is a system called “Tokyo Food Hygiene Meister” which is the system of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for certification of food facilities that practice hygiene management, from buying ingredients to cooking and offering them appropriately. Each facility is audited and certified based on the special standard designated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Certified facilities can display the certification mark at the entrance and so on, and it is instantly recognizable for anyone. Restaurants and stores with the Tokyo Food Hygiene Meister Mark provide safe and secure food.
Restaurants and food business operators who obtained the certification mark carry out hygiene management of facilities, equipment, machines and tools, hygienic handling of food, hygiene training of staff, and respond when accidents occur, etc. based on the standards designated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
As of November 2016, there are 750 certified facilities. “Shigenozushi”, mentioned earlier, is one of them. There will be more and more safe and attractive shops and restaurants like this.
The list of certified facilities is provided on the website of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Please refer to this website and the certification mark in order to enjoy meals safely.