Friday, June 24, 2005

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

I love food markets—in the US more and more cities and towns are opening farmer’s markets and yes, you can still go to the Fulton Fish Market (just not on Fulton Street, Hunt's Point anyone?). I especially love open air markets like the Union Square farmer's market in New York. It’s always a pleasure to venture through from vendor to vendor and see what sort of tasty goodies I can pick up as a snack or find a new vegetable or fruit to try.

When I read in my guidebook that Kyoto had a famous market, Nishiki, in the heart of Kyoto, I knew I had to make a visit. It's been in existence for some several hundred years, I was ready to get over there from the moment we left the hotel on our first day sightseeing. Little did I know that the market was actually a few blocks from our hotel, but it was actually the last stop on my tour of Kyoto.

Unlike the Rialto fish market in Venice or food stalls in Taiwan, the vendors in the Nishiki market don’t really open fully till 9am. Even then all the stalls weren’t fully stocked and deliveries were still being made. So my first visit at 8:15am became a trip to a 7-11 for some rice cake and yogurt. I returned with R.X. an hour and a half later, strolling down the narrow street of small stalls.

What I think struck me the most about my visit to Nishiki was that all the different items in the bento boxes (boxed lunches that have small bites of a variety of Japanese dishes) we had had in Kyoto and Nara could be found ready to eat amongst the different stalls in the market. No wonder bento boxes were plentiful in Japan!

One of the favorite foods I tried during my trip was the many kinds of tofu. It is food staple that’s appreciated and even revered by some in Japan. There were several different tofu stands in the market and each one seemed to sell exclusive varieties. In fact, one stall had just one type in its display case. Soft, dry and skin tofu is available and I ate quite a few types. In particular I enjoyed the “skin tofu” (pictured below) for its delicate chewiness and sweet aftertaste.

The Nishiki market also had quite a few pickled radish and vegetable vendors. Their colorful foodstuffs were obviously arranged and displayed with great care. I got to taste quite a few of these pickled veggies and radishes (I’m particularly fond of the latter, one of my favorite snacks are the pickled kimchi radishes often served in the starter plates in Korean restaurants). In Japan, some pickled foods seem to be dyed in a variety of colors. There was a moment at one point when I questioned whether I should place something so fluorescent pink into my mouth (really, it could have glowed in the dark). The sweet and salty pickled flavor is a great compliment to the customary scoop of rice in the bento box.

R.X. commented that the vegetables sold in Japan in general seem to be fresher than those in the US. This is probably because produce is sold in small quantities within a few days of being picked and not sitting for weeks in sterile supermarket. The leafy greens looked particularly fresh and bright, almost gleaming.

The Nishiki market was a lot of fun to walk through (and snap pictures—everything was arranged so well for fabulous food photos) and definitely should be on the “must-see” list of any visit to Kyoto.

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Nishiki Market, Kyoto photos 2

Top Left: "Skin" tofu
Top Right: Salty dreams
Bottom Left: Vegetables
Bottom Right: Radishes, more vegetables...oh my!

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Nishiki Market, Kyoto photos 1

Top Left: Nishiki Market
Top Right: Tofu vendor
Bottom Left: Pickle this and pickle that...
Bottom Right:Fry this!

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Fish delights...

My little bro Rose hates fish. He generally won’t eat it. It’s think it’s because he loves his live fish so dearly. Every time one dies, he’s upset. He’s got lots of them, but the only one I can remember is his little lobster (which, true, isn’t even a fish).

I, on the other hand, love to eat all the little fishies! I guess I can’t really comprehend how one can get attached to a pet fish. Dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and even iguanas I can understand having attachments with. I’ve never gotten attached to a pet fish—even at age 10 when I was flushing down the goldfish (who had survived 3 months of my caretaking) I’d won at the country fair. Call me cold-hearted and without feeling for those scaled and gilled creatures, but to me, it’s still a darn fish whom you can’t:

a) pet and shower affection (unless someone has developed a new breed)
b) play fetch with
c) scratch their belly or play with their ears
d) teach silly tricks like “roll over”
e) train them to say cool stuff like “hey fatso, you really want to eat that 2nd piece of cake?”

But fish is yummy and when it’s fresh, it’s just sublime. And there is no place better in the world to have fish than in Japan. Granted you pay through the nose for it, but R.X. and I wanted at least one meal of delicious fresh sushi. On our last night in Kyoto we decided to go to back to the top floor of the department store near our hotel where we had had our green tea shaved ice the night before (and which I will post about soon). We had seen one of those sushi belt restaurants next door. We picked out quite a few things from the belt, but also choose some sushi from a menu list the waitress handed us.

The freshness of the fish was so evident in every bite I had. Unlike in the US, where almost every fish is frozen before being thawed and then served—this is due to USFDA regulations—these slices of tuna, salmon and white fish were smooth, silky and fresh, fresh, fresh. I would bite into each one and let it sit in my mouth for just a second or two more than I normally would to enjoy the fish just bit longer.

There was a Japanese lady of a certain age sitting next to me who pointed to a few things on the belt that we should try. I tried some eel as well as some fatty tuna. It was all so delicious and fresh that I was actually stuffed for the first time during my trip to Japan (portion sizes are particularly tiny in Japan and I think I was hungry most of the time I was there).

I can only try to imagine what fish at the top restaurants in Japan must be like if the sushi at this “belt” restaurant was this good. I suppose I can only hope to one day return to Japan and be able to afford a really indulgent meal of fresh fish. For now though, it’ll just be in my fishy dreams.

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Fish delights photos

Top Left: Tuna, salmon and a white fish...just delish
Top Right: Sushi La Belt
Bottom Left: Salmon, salmon with fish eggs, plain and fatty tuna sushi pieces
Bottom Right: Unlike in the US, eel tends not to be drenched in soy paste and one can truly taste the texture of the meat.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Just a few words...

Below are some shots of food I ate or saw in Seoul and Kyoto. I ate pretty well in both places and I have a lot more to say, but it will have to wait for a rainy day (which in Taipei will likely mean this afternoon or tomorrow).


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Kyoto Snapshots...

Left: This was my last bite of Okonomiyaki I had in Kyoto on our first day. A pancake of eggs, flour, diced ginger, lettuce, scallops and shrimp. We addd mayo and seaweed flakes at the table.

Right: It seems every type of picked radish or vegetable can be found in Japan. This cute little stand was on our way to the Philospher's Path of temples and shrines. I was especially attracted to the bright colors.

Below: In Japan, sweet rice cakes as well as moon cakes are sold in every store you pass. The glutinous rice cakes are delicate and often filled with fruit pastes.

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Seoul Snapshots...

Left: Egg and toast! Koreans really seem to like this as a morning munchie. There's shredded carrots and cabbage along with some cheese and hot sauce (can't forget the hot sauce!).

Right: My first real meal in Seoul (albeit at the airport on the way to Kyoto). This dish seems to be a hybrid of different East Asian influences. There was Chinese tofu, Japanese udon noodles and Korean kimchi.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Hot hot baby!

So I made a nice discovery today. Figure out what it was:


Korean hot pepper paste goes really well with….


a) yogurt

b) scrambled eggs

c) greek salad

d) croissants

The answer is…B! “ding ding ding!!!!” Really, hot pepper paste and yogurt?

So the story goes…

As I’m staying in Aunt J.C.’s apartment in Taipei for the summer (while I try to cram as many Chinese characters into my head as possible—oy!), I’m trying to cook for myself as much as possible. This is not easy. No, it’s not because of limited resources (there are plenty of supermarkets and vegetable/fruit stands everywhere in Taiwan) nor is it that my aunt doesn’t have a kitchen (she’s got a fully stocked one and even has a small toaster oven—note: very rare to have any type of oven in homes in Taiwan or mainland China, they just don’t bake their food).

The truth is that Taiwanese (especially those in Taipei) tend not to cook because getting cheap, good quality take-out is just too convenient. I walk down the block and I can find 6 different storefronts with various noodle and rice dishes. A large bowl (enough for two dinners) of noodles is about $1.50. There’s a pushcart at the end of the block with a woman selling a fried tofu dish. Or I can head over tp the local 7-11, Family Mart, OK Mart, Hi-Life or Niko Mart convenient store (there are more convenient stores in Taiwan per person than anywhere else in the world—and if you don't believe me check this out) and grab a cold noodle platter with shredded carrots and cucumbers. So, I’m finding that getting the urge to cook for myself is a bit more difficult than I had anticipated.

I went to the grocery store the other day and bought a package of soba noodles, eggs, daishi sauce, dried Chinese mushrooms (can’t remember the English name for them) and string beans.

I really enjoyed the soba noodles I had in Japan and while I might not be able to get that quality of noodle in a supermarket here in Taiwan, I still crave that hearty taste. Yesterday I added some soy paste to the daishi sauce and it added a nice touch to the broth, a bit of depth to the saltiness of the daishi.

Today, as I sit indoors because of yet another rainy day—it’s been raining everyday since I got here—just hope there are no typhoons like the last time—I was craving for something a bit less hearty than noodles. I pulled out the eggs from the fridge and added a bit of grape seed oil (I couldn’t find butter at the store and my aunt doesn’t have any other oil—however I found it works really well and doesn’t add any flavor to the eggs—unlike olive oil) to the pan (which is really a pot because I haven’t found the pans yet—I need to ask my aunt where they are). Originally I thought I’d make some eggs sunny side up (I had no spatula—another thing to ask my aunt), but one broke and using the only kitchen tool I had, a pair of chopsticks, it became scrambled eggs.

I'm guessing the chicken feed is a bit different here in Taiwan because the yolks are a shiny bright orange color. These eggs are also organic (or at least according to the package), but I don’t know what standards they use that deem products “organic” in Taiwan.

I put the eggs into a small bowl and looked around the kitchen for some sort of herb or seasoning. The daishi sauce and the soy paste would not be appropriate this time—too salty. I looked around and saw the Korean hot pepper paste I took as a foodie souvenir from the Korean Air flight to Seoul. I was a little hesitant at first and put a tiny dab in and mixed the eggs. I could barely taste anything on my first bite. I squeezed the tube a bit harder the second time. I mixed it more too and my second bite was delicious. It really wasn’t “my tongue needs a fire hose” spicy, but, WOW, the paste added a kick to the eggs I never thought would be so tasty.

I would have never thought Korean hot pepper paste to be such a great complement to scrambled eggs. Of course, Koreans have probably been doing this for centuries or more.

Do you have a favorite dish spiced up with hot pepper paste? Do tell.

Written on Thursday June 16, 2005

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Hot hot baby photos

Left: Soba noodles at a Kyoto noodle house.
Right: Korean Air hot pepper paste.

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