Bounty of the seas: A culinary adventure in Nakaminato Fish Market
Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県 Ibaraki-ken), located in the Kanto Region (関東地方 Kanto Chihō) northeast of Tokyo, is a place largely overlooked by most visitors to Japan, seemingly because it is said to not have very many tourist destinations. Personally speaking, having lived in the prefecture myself for a considerable period of time, I firmly disagree with that notion, and I gladly take any opportunity to share everything I know about its as-yet-unknown places of interest.
Fishing boats line the quay adjacent to the fish market. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)
Bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the east, Ibaraki is blessed with access to an abundant wealth of seafood. Indeed, its coastline is marked by several townships that thrive on maritime industry. One such location that is particularly renowned among locals in the area, and even visitors in and out of Ibaraki, can be found in Hitachinaka City (ひたちなか市 Hitachinaka-shi), roughly in the centre of the prefecture.
Throngs of shoppers mill about the wholesale centres. (Image credit: Visit Ibaraki Facebook)
Nakaminato Fish Market (那珂湊おさかな市場 Nakaminato osakana ichiba) gets incredibly lively on Sundays and public holidays. More than 1 million people come to this market every year, and it isn’t hard to see why: Situated beside a fishery port of the same name, it is home to a multitude of establishments touting seafood products procured not just locally, but from around the whole country and even abroad. Though not as famous as the markets of Tsukiji and Toyosu in Tokyo, it is nevertheless ranked among the best in the country.
Rows upon rows of fresh seafood entice the hungry customer. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)
The main roadside area houses several wholesale merchants selling an immense variety of seafood. Everything from flounder to tuna, crab to octopus, Ibaraki specialties such as whitebait (しらす shirasu) and the exotic monkfish (あんこう ankō), all can be found here. Homecooks and restaurant owners alike frequent this market for its affordable prices. Another big draw is the fact that a lot of the ingredient processing is done manually. For instance, dried fish and kombu seaweed are treated with natural sea salt, offering a great increase in quality compared to those typically sold at supermarkets.
The oyster is your world. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)
These massive oysters go for as cheap as $2 each. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)
Oysters are a particularly hot sell, and many shops feature heaps of them laid out at the very front, with a staff member present to shuck them right in front of you so that you can enjoy them raw at the freshest quality. They are so large yet so cheap that they never fail to draw long, snaking lines of customers.
Kani miso, a rich paste made from boiled crab innards. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)
Across the wholesale centres are street carts that offer tasty quick bites for those who come to enjoy the atmosphere.
Sick of all that seafood? Try a Nakaminato jumbo frankfurter instead from one of the roadside stalls! (Image credit: Ananda Kang)
Situated in various areas around the marketplace are restaurants serving all kinds of seafood. One can revel in a plentiful variety of cuisine ranging from hamayaki (浜焼き grilled fresh seafood) nabe (鍋) hotpot, teishoku (定食) set meals, conveyor belt sushi (回転寿司 kaitenzushi), and kaisendon (海鮮丼 seafood rice bowls). These restaurants source their ingredients from the market itself, so just as the finest quality cuisine is assured, huge crowds queuing to get in during lunchtime are also pretty much guaranteed. I highly advise going for an early brunch from 9am to 10am onwards when restaurants start to open, in order to avoid a long wait.
A gorgeous and decadent kaisendon served with only the best sashimi at Kaisensushi Kaikatei (海花亭). (Image credit: Ananda Kang)
Nakaminato Fish Market is easiest accessed via motor vehicle, but from 9am to mid-afternoon the narrow roads leading into the venue tends to get heavily congested with inbound traffic. Alternatively, it is also relatively easy to take public transport to get there from Nakaminato Station.
Nakaminato Fish Market (那珂湊おさかな市場)
Address: 19-8 Minatohoncho, Hitachinaka, Ibaraki 311-1221
Nearest station: Nakaminato Station (那珂湊駅)
Access: 15-minute walk or 5-minute cycle via rental bicycle (¥1,000/day) from Nakaminato Station
Opening hours: 8am–5pm (Sunday–Friday), 8am–6pm (Saturday)
Tel: +81 29-263-6779
Still not convinced? Here is another picture of delicious fresh oysters to whet your appetite. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)
Lastly, a parting tip: Just like most fish markets all over the world, the floors are wet, so remember to avoid wearing exposed footwear! Happy feasting!
Header image credit: Visit Ibaraki Facebook