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.


Anonymous greengacha said...

Hi! I enjoyed your blog:-) When I go to Kyoto, Nishiki Market is the "must" destination always. Have you tried "fu-manju" from the store named Fuka? Fu is a kind of vegetarian foodstuff made from concentrated wheat gluten, and can be made into this amazing sweet, rice-cake like confection. Keep on enjoying food!!

12:13 PM  
Blogger Rose said...


I did try some wheat gluten sweets, but don't know what the names were. I really like the gluton cakes with fruit filling.

2:23 AM  

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