A trip to the Tsukiji fish market is almost mandatory for anyone visiting Tokyo, and locals don’t mind going every once in a while either to buy some of the freshest fish in Japan. After the usual wholesaler tour, getting hungry is normal, and most tourist guides actually suggest you try one of the awesome sushi restaurants around.

What they usually don’t mention (the honest ones just try to hide it), is that it’s not unusual to pay 3,500 yen or more for a 10-piece sushi or sashimi set. Of course, they are prepared by great chefs with amazing quality fish, and the location has its importance as well. But considering that only 2 to 4 pieces are made with very expensive fish (like the legendary fatty tuna—other pieces are fresh, but pretty regular stuff), it feels like a bit too much. With the constant demand from tourists, restaurants in the inner market have, not surprisingly, raised the prices quite a bit. For this reason, you will hardly see a single Japanese person inside these restaurants. Well, except for the chefs of course.

Growing up in the Italian countryside, I learned to care about three things in a restaurant: quality, quantity and price. Location and presentation are secondary, if not irrelevant, in my opinion. And that’s actually the Cheapo approach to food as well.

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Tsukiji Maguroya Tokyo Honten.
Delicious sashimi sets served at Maguroya. | Photo by Giulio Coral

The place

Walking around the outer market (where Cheapos found other great sushi deals) is how I discovered Tsukiji Maguroya Tokyo Honten (築地まぐろや東京本店), a stall serving amazing sashimi at a fraction of the inner market prices. Coming out from the wholesaler area, turn right at the first streetlight you encounter on the Shin-Ohashi Dori, left at the first alley, and it should be the second one on the right-hand side (first one sells vegetables, so no risk of going to the wrong place). The typical scene:

  • A guy cutting large slices of sashimi
  • A woman advertising how cheap and delicious their sashimi is, and distributing it to the customers
  • Some people in the background carrying fat-shiny tuna or washing knives

The fridge they have in front of the counter is usually almost empty: most of the plates are placed on top of it and sold in 1 or 2 minutes. There are no seats, but just two small standing tables for four people each or so, so many people eat the sashimi while standing on the alley, and a few take it home. Customers are both tourists and locals (very positive sign), and Japanese patrons seem to give some priority to foreigners for the table (probably assuming their inept chopstick skills).

Tsukiji Maguroya Tokyo Honten.
Lunch break for the employees is at 2pm, when the place gets less crowded. | Photo by Giulio Coral

The food

Having a standardized menu is not needed at this place, since they decided to keep it very simple: tuna. The fish is brought directly from the wholesaler area a few meters away. After cutting it, each plate gets a price sticker, and that’s it. On top of the fridge, you will usually see:

  • 1,000 yen set: various cuts of sashimi, different sizes and textures
  • 1,000 yen sushi: 4 giant sushi rolls, with very little rice and a lot of tuna
  • 2,000 yen set: about 6 huge slices of sashimi (10 cm long!), only the best cuts
  • 3,000 yen set: same as above, but more slices

The first three sets are actually a full lunch! Never got so full by eating just tuna sashimi. In my case, we (2 people) shared the first and the third set. Both of them really delicious: the first one lets you discover the ranging tastes and textures that a single fish can offer, while the second one is delivers the perfect combination of taste and consistency of the slices.

Be a conscious consumer of both the Tsukiji experience and sushi. Learn how to protect bluefin tuna and other fish that are in danger of being eaten to extinction by using this guide to sustainable sushi.

I initially thought the sashimi slices would be kind of hard to chew (I mean, so big!), but I was totally wrong. If you go for the more expensive sets, aim for those with whiter tuna: the fatter, the better. Absolutely an A+, amazing sashimi experience.

Tsukiji Maguroya Tokyo Honten.
One of the owners, holding up a great piece of tuna before cutting it. | Photo by Giulio Coral

As you might know, Tsukiji Fish Market will relocate to a new building complex in Odaiba. But don’t stress; that’s only happening in late 2018, and the market will still provide awesome fish under an hour from Tokyo central.

Enjoy the real Tsukiji experience, with a cheapo price tag!

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