Kyoto’s Shijo Street may not exactly be the first image that comes to mind when talking about this Japanese city. This modern hub is filled with sprawling commercial establishments, and consequently plagued by traffic jams and a multitude of pedestrians. This was an area of Kyoto that did not exactly thrill me, but running parallel to the main avenue was one of the city’s best attractions: Nishiki Market. Dubbed as Kyoto’s Kitchen, it is home to many great culinary finds.
Our early morning excursion to Higashiyama left us with plenty of time to arrive at the market before lunch time. The fame of this market has brought about its fair share of visitors, so like many places in Kyoto, timing is everything. There were not much people when we got there, but businesses had already opened. With the availability of a plethora of food, it was evident that we were in for a treat. So what exactly did we have at this market? Here were some of our snacks:
These grilled sticky rice balls in skewers were some of my favorite snacks during our first trip to Japan. Unfortunately, the ones I tried at Nishiki didn’t live up to that memory. These lacked the smoky aroma, and the sauce didn’t exactly render it more delicious also.
We didn’t have some at the market, but bought a few packs to try at our accommodation. What was more endearing was watching the artisan make these treats on the spot — he seemed to be in a trance as he piped the mixture on the pan and carried on with cooking these snacks in a traditional way.
Admittedly, these grilled octopus balls were far from being my favorite, but many raved about a certain shop in Nishiki Market. The takoyaki came undressed, so it was up to the customer to pour the soy-based sauce, to top them with mayonnaise and to sprinkle some seaweed dust. While my family enjoyed these treats, I didn’t find them spectacularly delicious, so I’m still looking forward to the day that I’d truly appreciate them.
Again, it was another of those treats that we did not devour on the spot. Rather, we ate them that evening, as the shop attendant insisted that we eat it on the same day. The bitter taste of matcha hit my tongue as soon as I put it in my mouth, making my first impression of it less than stellar. The bitter taste mellowed out soon as the roasted sticky rice flavor shined, making it more familiar and palatable. My brother liked them instantly, but I only enjoyed them the more I had.
It would be a shame for us to miss an opportunity of eating sashimi at a Japanese market. My parents spotted a store with a very friendly vendor who sold seafood at such reasonable prices. Moreover, the shop had a tiny area where we could munch on what we bought. As expected, these seafood were very fresh and a few more plates followed.
These soy milk doughnuts were some of the more famous finds in Nishiki Market. Unfortunately, they were not as piping hot as I expected, but they were quite good given their lightness and fluffiness. I didn’t taste any soymilk flavor though. Perhaps it was too subtle, or maybe I had more pungent flavors earlier.
Like any Japanese market, Nishiki had its offerings of dried fish and pickles, and even wagyu. However, the biggest drawback of this market was the width of its alleyway — it seemed that only three people could stand side by side. Stopping to peruse the goods on display in front of the shops was a little tricky, as it almost meant inconveniencing people around you especially in the more populated areas. Considering we were there at an off-peak hour, I couldn’t imagine how meandering through this market would be like on a busy day.
It was my first Japanese market experience. It wasn’t totally the greatest, but it was one to offer insight on this country’s food and culture. Would I go back? Most definitely.
More on Kyoto next time. Happy (virtual) travels!