I have been inspired by reading John Ashburne‘s walk in Deep Kyoto: Walks to write about our own visits to Nishiki Market in Kyoto. My account won’t be as well-informed as that of food writer and Kyoto resident John, but it is a place that both of us love, and I have been meaning to write about our impressions for a while.
We first visited Nishiki Market on our honeymoon in 2009. We were staying in an apartment in the Gosho South area, on Nijo-dori, and had researched places to shop for ingredients for our cooking when planning our trip. My husband had read about the market online, and I had read about it in our copy of the Rough Guide to Japan.
Our initial reccy was on our first full day in Kyoto. We had spent the morning discombobulatedly wandering around the Imperial Palace Gardens, and headed to the market in the afternoon. In my handwritten journal from the time I have written: “The market is amazing. Noisy, crowded, colourful – it stretches over a couple of blocks. Shops and stalls are crammed together selling souvenirs, vegetables, sushi, healthfoods, household goods. We buy a bag of donuts and munch as we walk.”
Those tofu donuts are amazing. We buy a bag every time we visit the market now. Head to Konnamonja at the crossroads with Sakai-machi Dori (堺町道)to try them yourself. Enter the market at its western entrance at the junction with Takakura Dori (高倉道) and head one block east. Konnamonja is the last shop on the left. The western entrance is at the bottom on this map (all in Japanese).
Even though we visited the market twice on this first trip, I didn’t take any photographs. I was too busy looking with my eyes and drinking in the atmosphere, negotiating the crowds (we were there during Golden Week) and buying souvenirs and gifts to take home. Nishiki Market is the first place we encountered a 100円 shop in Japan, where we bought tea cups, a teapot, ohashi and bento boxes.
Our second trip to Japan was in the autumn, and Nishiki Market had a seasonal feel.
On this visit, we saw a display of mushrooms in the window of one of the shops, Kanematsu. There were signs everywhere forbidding the taking of photographs, perhaps to discourage crowds of tourists preventing customers from entering the store. It only partly works. Lots of us were still standing there open mouthed. Why? Because this simple basket of mushrooms was priced at 98,000円. In 2010, this converted to £700. Kanematsu is on the right heading east, just before the junction with Yanagi Baba Dori (柳馬場道). Apparently there’s a small restaurant upstairs, but we’ve never tried it.
Where we have eaten in Nishiki Market is Hale, which is a well-hidden vegan restaurant. You’ll find it on the left heading east, midway along the block that stretches from Tominokoji Dori (富小路道) to Fuyacho Dori (麩屋町道). If you’re lucky, the door will be open and you’ll see the name, because it literally is a small glazed door to a narrow alley that leads you behind the market proper to a bijou restaurant. It’s worth seeking out, particularly if you are vegetarian or vegan. The lunch set that costs 1000円 is seasonal, but typically made up of a rice dish, tofu skin, mushrooms, pickles, creamed tofu and a drink.
Although socially it’s not polite to eat food on the move, Nishiki Market is good for street food. We’ve had kakiage (かきあげ) at Houkyuuan (汸臼庵) at the junction with Tominokoji Dori. Kakiage is usually pressed fish steamed on a stick, but can sometimes be vegetable patties. We had a mixture of sweet potato, carrot and pumpkin on our autumn trip and it was delicious.
Some of the stores also allow you to try the wares. Our favourite is Uchida (打田), next door to Kanematsu. The array of pickles in barrels is immense, and there are usually small trays of the pickles for you to try so that you can choose what suits your palate.
The shop is always busy, both with people gazing at the wares and buying them. The staff are efficiently helpful, processing purchases quickly and giving advice on how to store the pickles and how quickly to eat them. It has never been a problem for us, as we eat them too quickly to be worried about storage or best before dates!
On our last trip to Kyoto, in 2013, we went back to the greengrocer who carves his kabocha for Hallowe’en and bought possibly the best apple I have ever eaten. This year I had an apple in Aomori, which was equally huge and pretty delicious, but the beast I bought in Nishiki Market was particularly sweet and juicy, and particularly large. It took 20 minutes to eat it and it almost defeated me!
Nishiki Market isn’t known as Kyoto’s Kitchen for nothing. For food alone it is a great spot to visit, but there are other reasons for shopping there. I have brought back some lovely gifts for friends and family from the shops selling traditional cloth goods, tinware, wooden bowls and bags. I wish we had somewhere like it round the corner here in Manchester!