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Fast Food for Professionals : WAKABA & TORITOH

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

Even though Tokyo's biggest fish market has moved to Toyosu, TSUKIJI keeps its buzz by building large fish wholesalers' markets and attracting a large number of visitors. New sushi restaurants open constantly, among them are some traditional stalls that have long catered to the market's professionals.

Fish buyers and wholesalers start their operations before dawn, then after hustling for hours, they take a short break to have breakfast.

For their convenience, WAKABA ramen stall opens at 5:00am. It's a tiny shack facing the main street so that everyone can see it. Like a takeaway shop, they only have a counter table to deliver the bowls, no space to eat. When you receive a bowl full of soup & noodles, you are asked to take it to the uneven tables settled on a sidewalk, dodging through passers-by.

The ramen, only one dish "CHUKA-SOBA" on the menu, has pretty much a classic taste. Noodles with a chashu pork slice and green onions in soy sauce based soup. The noodles are very slim in order to be served quickly. That means you need to eat VERY FAST before the noodles get too soggy.

Slurping ramen hastily in the midst of a crowded sidewalk might be awkward at first. When you get used to it, you are truly part of the market.

A little before noon, there's a queue on both sides of a narrow corridor. They are waiting for a seat in TORITOH, a chicken bowl specialty shop. This is a branch of the chicken meat wholesaler, which is why its meat is so fresh.

I recommend you order its signature "OYAKO-DON", a chicken rice bowl covered by runny egg yolk. Watch closely as the chef bakes egg yolk on a pan, rolling and scrambling it without it becoming too hard, then pouring it gently onto the rice.

Its Jidori locally-reared chicken meat has a firm texture and the egg yolk has a rich taste. Even a small cup of chicken soup tastes gorgeous. You can't compare any to a normal broiler.

It's a totally fantastic moment when, after watching the chef's artisanal cooking skills, you enjoy eating the rice with silky smooth egg yolk. The only downside of this restaurant is that you can't stay any longer. Once you go into the stall, it doesn't take more than ten minutes before you finish the bowl.

Professionals in the fish market are all too busy to take time to eat meals. At the same time, they are continuously looking for good food. Wakaba, Toritoh and other restaurants in Tsukiji have successfully combined serving fast food and maintaining the best quality, then established their traditions.

FYI: Most restaurants at Tsukiji, including Wakaba and Toritoh, close early afternoon. Better to visit before noon. <MAY 2022 ©Larry_Tak>

THE OTHER DAY, I visited TSUKIJI and joined the queue for TORITOH again. VIsitors at Tsukiji were more international thanks to the easing of travel restrictions, giving a Taiwanese couple, Korean guys and other Asian tourists their opportunities to join the queue in front of me.

After a half an hour, I was ushered in. I ordered an OYAKO-DON, as I did last time, but this time it was a SHIO (salt) version. The chicken & egg rice bowl is normally cooked in soy sauce broth, as it was on my previous visit, whereas the SHIO version is based on salt broth, which is unique to this store.

I waited another couple of minutes, and the bowl was on my table. It didn't look much different from normal, only its colour was slightly lighter, as you would expect when comparing Shio with Shoyu ramen. The difference is more subtle though.

I expected a salty kick on each bite, however, to my surprise, it rather tasted MILD, while the umami of chicken was more enhanced.

I was once again fascinated by the perfect balance of rich taste and pleasant texture. Just as I was about to finish the bowl, I found "Oyako-don SHIO the SECOND version" on the menu. I really wondered how different it is from my version, and made up my mind to come back to Tsukiji very soon. <Added on Feb 2023 ©Larry_Tak>

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