Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Something’s Fishy … But in a Good Way: Tokyo Fish Market

Berkeley’s Tokyo Fish Market is a real food destination. And I’m not just saying that because it took me a good 45-minute bus ride (with one transfer) to get there. This Japanese-American institution is out there on its own on San Pablo Avenue but still attracts a loyal following after more than 45 years in business.

One block north of the REI store, the Tokyo Fish Market offers an abundance of fresh fish, Japanese food products and snacks, and fresh fruits and vegetables. From the street you’ll see a small, red-brick shack with the store name on the side, but that’s the old Tokyo Fish Market (and now its gift shop). About 2½ years ago, the owners expanded into a garage warehouse in the back so everything now is big and new.

Last Saturday, I made my first trip to the market looking for some high-quality fish. It’s a good thing I caught the bus because parking looks horrendous. I got there at mid-morning, so not sure if I missed the early morning rush or I beat it because the store wasn’t very packed.

Tokyo Fish Market is more than just fish, although it really shines in that area. (More on that later.) It’s really a Japanese supermarket selling a variety of goods, including an assortment or rice and sake, miso, Japanese crackers and snacks, fresh mochi from Los Angeles, frozen foods (including a section of Hawaiian goodies) and a grocery section with many organic fruits and vegetables.

Near the entrance, there’s also a deli section that sells bento—the Japanese boxed lunches. They have a variety of combinations, many featuring the fish sold there. There’s also a section of pickled and marinated foods like poke and kazunoku (salted herring). Of course, there’s a sushi counter.

The fish counter was just amazing. It ranged from fillets of halibut, ono, sea bass and butterfish to whole fishes like tai snapper, sand dabs and monkfish. There’s a live crab tank (selling for $6.95 a pound right now since we’re near the end of the season) and a refrigerated section of more fish-related foods like ceviche.

But I was staring at the center where the Tokyo Fish Market featured chunks of sashimi-grade fish, including ruby red blocks of yellow fin tuna and the pale pink hamachi. There were also more exotic sashimi ingredients like mirugai (that clam that looks like an elephant’s trunk) and fresh abalone.

On Saturday, the fish counter seemed to be staffed by a bunch of college-aged students. All perfectly nice and helpful, but not whom I would call my local fishmonger. I guess a lot of the old-timers just work on the weekdays.

Side note: I walked into the gift shop and it was super quiet with no one inside. They were selling mostly Japanese housewares from sushi bamboo mats to pottery to kid toys to cookbooks. Ideally the owners wanted to tear down the front shop and make more room for parking but the city of Berkeley deemed the red-brick building a historic landmark. Such is the life of an institution.

I left the market with a bunch of grocery items and a cut of sashimi-grade Kona Kampachi, a farm-raised fish from the Big Island of Hawaii. (Check back tomorrow to see how I prepared it.) My only wish is that Tokyo Fish Market is walkable from where I live. For now, it’ll be my occasional special trips for fresh fish and more.

Tokyo Fish Market, 1220 San Pablo Ave. (at Gilman), Berkeley. PH: 510.524.7243. Open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sundays.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the Super88 in Boston.

Anonymous said...

I've only been there a couple of times since they remodeled, looks like they have really buffed up the selection, I must go back soon.

Lisa said...

Oh my goodness. I lived in Oakland for 10 years and I never saw this place. I haven't lived there since 2001 and I still miss the bay area...terribly. I would get my sushi fish at Berkeley Bowl, but had I known about this market I'd have gone there for sure.

Anyhow, I LOVE your blog. Thanks for keeping me abreast on my ol' stompin' grounds.