If you are tired of the temples and gardens of Kyoto and want a glimpse of everyday Kyoto life, a walk down Nishiki-koji (Nishiki market) will surely refresh your spirits. Located in central Kyoto, the narrow street, conveniently covered for the rain, has been supplying Kyoto’s residents with high-quality traditional ingredients for centuries. Although its present form and location is from the late 16th century, the market has been in place since the Middle Ages.
I always like to head straight to the markets and food enclaves when I arrive in a new city; it’s the pulse of how people live and how the food culture is surviving the perils of supermarkets and industrial food. Kyoto is known for its many culinary delicacies, and you'll find most of them at Nishiki. Meandering through the arcade one can easily be overwhelmed by the sights, the sounds and the smells of the market.
Most people call this place ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’ and you can see why with its specialist stalls bustling in activity and with fascinating displays of artisan produce and fresh local bounty; from glistening fresh seafood pristinely displayed to every imaginable dried fish and seafood, an extraordinary kaleidoscope of pickled vegetables and handmade sweets, and all the seasonal foods and specialties that the historical Kyoto cuisine is renowned.
说到京都，就不能错过号称 “京都厨房” 的锦市场。拥有四百年历史的京都人的厨房–锦市场，京都必访旅遊人气景点之一，且有京都厨房之美誉，聚集上百家的店舖，闹哄哄热闹非凡的商店街，集具了各种生鲜食材、传统小吃、菓子杂货等，除了是外来遊客最爱到访的地方，也是京都市民爱逛的市集之一。
Nishiki's history dates back to several hundred years ago. The first store (fish store) opened around 1300. Therefore many stores have been in operation by the same families for generations until today. The area is said to have been chosen as a site for a market because of its springs of fresh groundwater that make the stockpiling of fish very convenient and also eased the transportation and delivery of food to the Imperial Palace.
It didn't become a full-fledged market for a while, but in the Edo period (1600-1868), Nishiki became a proper fish market, with several wholesale fish stores operating as the feudal government designated the market as a registered wholesale fish vendor (even today, the most common stores are fish shops).
Most of the tiny storefront shops are open by mid-morning, although professional chefs frequent the fish purveyors early to pick the best of the day’s catch. By lunchtime, the market is in full swing, and mouth-watering aromas and mind-boggling sights await at every turn.
As most of the stores open in the morning, and the market goes in full swing, nice aromas and vigorous sights await you at every corner. Prices might be a bit higher than in neighborhood supermarkets but the difference is in the freshness and quality. The taste says it all.
Fishmongers are barking out "Irasshaimase" (welcome!), while the lively chatter of housewives provides an auditory backdrop. The enticing aromas of roasted tea and chestnuts waft through the air, competing with deep-fried soy milk doughnuts and freshly grilled unagi. The sensory input may be intense, but a trip to Nishiki is a must for any food afficianado visiting Kyoto.
This centuries-old covered market in the heart of Kyoto has two types of shops, and two types of shoppers. The first category caters to locals: homemakers, chefs and cooks. Those who know the market as 'Kyoto’s kitchen' know it inside out, patronize their regular shops and treat the market as if were their pantry.
The other category of shops caters to the growing legion of tourist shoppers who stop and start every few meters, cameras and guidebooks to the ready, turning the journey of 400 meters into something like 400 km.
Nishiki’s charm is in its immediacy. There are a few hundred shops, some no bigger than a kitchen, crammed into the long, narrow cavern, which runs parallel to Shijo-dori. The two streets are like chalk and cheese. Where Shijo-dori is lined with luxury stores, banks and chain shops, Nishiki is all hustle and bustle.
Tsukemono are Japanese pickles. They are served with steamed rice as a small side dish to accompany or as a garnish for meals. Although only a few pieces or a small portion of tsukemono is served with rice, it is a critically important element in Japanese dishes. Most common kinds of tsukemono are pickled radish, leaf vegetables, cucumber, eggplant in salt. You will see many large barrels filled with tsukemono in many shops in the market.
Competition for your senses is everywhere. The air is filled with the smell of fresh fish, pickled vegetables, roasted chestnuts, ground sesame and tofu doughnuts, as well as cries from the workers pounding mochi (rice cakes) and people speaking in all kinds of tongues. Nishiki is where you’ll find an A-Z of what goes into washoku (Japanese cuisine).
As the history of Nishiki Ichiba explains, there are about 20 fish stores in the market. Each store offers the freshest fish and seafood of the day and shop people heartily welcome and try to attract customers passing in front of their stores. From raw fish in whole to pieces of ready-to-cook fish, there are a wide range of seasonal fish at the front. Some shops offer small pieces of seasoned raw fish (sashimi) on skewers to go, which are absolutely fresh!
As at any good food market, the produce keeps pace with the seasons. Early autumn is the time for two of Kyoto’s (and Japan’s) seasonal favorites: chestnuts and mushrooms. Be warned: The mushrooms are a delicacy in the same league as truffles; you’ll need to raid your bank account (or a bank), so it might be best to just settle on the chestnuts.
The best way to get through Nishiki is to simply graze your way along. Many of the shops offer free samples, especially those selling tsukemono. My advice: Try everything — it won’t kill you.
As I ate my way into the depths of Nishiki Market and sat down for lunch, i had expanded my own appreciation of this taste so prevalent in Kyoto's food history. I'll come away from the walk not only appreciating the market itself but with the tools to gain a deeper understand of Kyoto's culinary offerings.
For visitors to Kyoto without their own refrigerator, it might be unrealistic to stock up on seafood items, but that needn’t stop you from picking up takotamago, a quail egg embedded in octopus. This skewer dish is miniature-sized, but so much is squeezed into it — just like Nishiki Market.
A freelance Singapore-based travel photographer / photojournalist. I seek the extraordinary, but finds beauty in the everyday. Life is interesting, capture it.
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