Sushi Zanmai is an awesome, popular place for sushi in Tokyo’s, Tsukiji Fish Market. It is a bit touristy and has a long line out the door, but it’s worth going here as the fish is great and the prices are fairly reasonable. I went to their main restaurant, but they have also another, smaller restaurant within the market as well. I also had a line, albeit a bit shorter.
I had read about this place in guidebooks and that it’s one of the best sushi places in Tokyo, that it takes hours to get in, but that it’s worth the wait. So I decided to go check it out and endure the wait, even amidst the random fish smells and despite the throngs of people.
My wait was only about 25 minutes at 11:00am. Again, I must emphasize how awkward it is to not speak the language, have people yell at you as if you understand what they’re saying. and then, assume you understand what they’ve just told you. In addition, there are all these customs and rules in Japan that you’re supposed to go by; and you are partially expected to know them (like not poring your own beer or sake, which is something one cannot help if they’re dining alone). All the while, people constantly stare at you, as an obvious tourist, which cannot help but feel judgmental at times. And I’ve been told by expats and various others that the Japanese are a rather elitist group when it
comes to tradition: that they do not think anyone but themselves can truly master their customs properly. I cannot justifiably speak to this assertion, all I know is that I did not know nor abide by all of their customs properly, though I did try.
I had a sampler of the various kinds of fish offered, along with a few extras that I had in addition to the set sampler that I chose from the menu. There were several set options of various fish, but I tried to choose one that would give me the most variety. The one I chose consisted of: scallop (which was soft, light tasting, and excellent consistency), fatty tuna (which was delicious. The texture was spot-on, with a deep, buttery meaty flavor that could almost be filet mignon. I could eat a plate of it.), broiled fatty tuna (also very delicious. It is the fatty tuna that has been seared on the outside, so you get the best of the flavors both raw and cooked. It tastes a bit more salty the raw version. It being cooked, the texture is even softer and more moist, as the juices of the fat begin to come out), sea urchin roe (which literally tastes like a half-melted dollop of fresh farm butter dropped into the the sea), salmon, shellfish, egg, sea eel, albacore tuna, sweet shrimp, red snapper, salmon roe, and yellowtail (all of which were among the best I’ve ever tasted).
My meal was also accompanied by staring off with miso soup and ending with a slice of asian pear and two plums. Though basically gorging myself on fresh, delicious fish, I did not feel a bit guilty or gluttonous by comparison to everyone around me, as they all seemed to me eating just as much in course after course. Moreover, I was only able to go here once on my visit to Tokyo, so I had to make one visit count.
All in all, Sushi Zanmai did not disappoint and, rather, left me feeling more satisfied than I had expected to feel, as I had somewhat doubted all the hype surrounding this place. Despite waiting nearly 30 minutes and spending over $50 on lunch, it was worth it. It was a great experience and I would not take it back or alter it in any way.
The woman beside me, and really all the people around, seemed to basically be writhing in excitement to eat this sushi. It seemed to me like it was like a genuine treat and experience for them also, knowing, perhaps, it was going to be the best sushi they would ever taste I their lives! I had the feeling that some of the people around me had come from other parts of Japan or had
saved up money to come here, and that this was actually a life event for them, just as it was for me. All of this made me feel glad that I decided to come here, thankful that I had the
opportunity to do so, and vow that I would come back again in the future. I also had the distinct feeling that, because I had tasted such superb sushi, I would never be truly satisfied with sushi below this level of excellence. Alas, the double-edged sword of indulging in excellence!
Also, randomly while I was here, a family sat next to me, of which I struck up a conversation with the father who told me that he went to the University of Alabama in 1974-5, as a sports photographer for the football team! This is so ironic because it is exactly the same time in which my father was at the University of Alabama. It was so random and beautifully ironic. Once again, I am struck by feeling that life is such a funny, ironic place.