There are fewer experiences that bring me more joy than to explore the marketplace of a particular town or city. I find that each market has its own distinct character that makes it unique from any other in the world. I think that one of the surest ways to observe and learn about a culture is to visit its market!
There is nothing like the sensory overload and vibrant energy that one experiences while walking through one of these magical areas. Hordes of customers bustle about, bargaining with vendors for their wares of goods that are artfully arranged in piles around stalls and along aisles. The aromas of fresh and cooked food alike swirl around in the air while the sounds of live music and many languages being spoken all at once attack the ears. You get the chance to see and try things you have never encountered before, and if you’re lucky, you get the opportunity to form personal relationships and connections with those around you. A market is a place of beauty and chaos, of love and pride; a place where all come together with the common goal of gaining something new, something special. When I found out that there was a fish market down Nippombashi road in Osaka, I jumped at the chance to take the morning and create a tasting excursion.
Kuromon Ichiba market is a five hundred and eighty meter span of vendors toting a range of items but specializing in anything and everything seafood. Upon entering, I immediately encountered the tart scent of pickled vegetables and the overpowering smokiness of grilled food that just barely covered up the delicate aroma of chlorophyll. The scent of green vegetables should be bottled as a perfume, it is so light and refreshing yet almost indictable, similar to that of the smell of ice. You may not think ice has a smell, but it does to me, and it was prevalent in Kuromon Ichiba Market. Surprisingly, the one smell that was absent was that of fish. An excellent sign of freshness.
I wandered down the long aisle like an overexcited child in a candy store, trying my best to be patient and not buy the very first thing I saw.
The options were endless! Crustacean skewers, charred squid, and scallops covered in melted brown butter sizzling on a grill. This led to stands offering fried chicken, seafood soups, boiled vegetables and various renditions of tartare. There was Kim Chee. There were octopus lollipops. There were baby squids that were fried to the texture of chicharron and meant to be eaten whole- eyeballs and all.
Not to be forgotten, there was also a fresh foods section, selling everything from fish such as salmon or whale, to unearthly fruits such as white strawberries and apples the size of my head.
This is all well and good, but then something happened, thus immortalizing this memory in my mind forever. While walking, I stumbled upon a special demonstration of the dismemberment of a large Tuna fish. This guy must have weighed hundreds of pounds and I observed in awe as two men deftly sliced into the belly and carved alongside the carcass. The entire process was completed within minutes, a feat only possible to accomplish by truly practiced experts.
The crowd cheered and I joined in but was abruptly halted in my applause when the fish monger turned to me and beckoned me forth. Confused and shy, I shuffled forward and mumbled my apologies- “sumimasen”- for the language barrier. To this I was simply handed a spoon. The man pointed to the belly of the tuna and then emulated eating motions. I will never forget the day that I got to stand surrounded by kind smiling strangers in a foreign country, and personally scrape out the toro to eat raw on the spot from a freshly killed and butchered Tuna fish. The toro, or fattiest and very expensive area of the tuna, immediately melted in my mouth. There was no need for lemon or soy sauce to balance the flavor. It was perfection.