I loved exploring Kyoto’s curiosities and quirks and one of the best places to do so was certainly centuries-old Nishiki Market, city’s largest traditional food market commonly referred to as Kyoto’s Kitchen. Meandering through its tiny shops is definitely a pleasant sensory overload. Imagine row after row of the freshest Japanese produce, seafood, meats, dried, bulk, and prepared foods you can find. Just like anything else in Japan the market is incredibly organized. I loved how the stalls are lined up in a covered arcade (great for a rainy day tour!) in one row and stretch for six blocks or so. It makes it so much easier to peruse all the shops without a fear of missing out on something (unlike La Boqueria in Barcelona or Grand Bazaar in Turkey). The market is a dream for foodies. You will find yourself in the whirl of activity with very friendly merchants who politely bow and invite you inside enticing with delectable treats, kitchenware, beautiful textiles and endless souvenirs. There is no way to get lost, just follow the colorful stained glass ceiling.
We meandered from shop to shop taking in the smells and the sounds and tasting what pleased the eye from a wide array of street food. You can probably find all the major ingredients of traditional Kyoto cuisine here: the heaps of lush green and fragrant vegetables (even real root of wasabi!) piled on top of each other, fresh tofu, fish and shellfish. And that irresistible tsukemono, Japanese pickles which come in all shapes and colors and are just incredibly flavorful and delicious!
Freshly cooked street food is also in abundance and you can savor little bites of local specialties as you go. Perhaps it was a bit daring of me to try this specialty of the region – baby octopus stuffed with quail egg and coated with red sweet sauce. I couldn’t walk past this dessert shop Sa Wa Wa selling matcha mochi and ice-cream either. In general, the quality of matcha flavored food in Kyoto was incredible, I was never overwhelmed by its bitterness.
Sesame sweet potatoes are also very popular although it tasted pretty bland to me, and not sweet at all. It was also hard to resist the stunning exquisite wagashi. While these decadent creations do not have a long shelf life to allow you to take it home as a souvenir, I’d recommend getting Kyoto’s signature rock candy – konpeito.
One of my favorite finds in Nishiki Market was certainly this artisan honey shop which sold an amazing array of flavored honey, anything from yuzu (my absolute favorite) to blueberries, raspberries, etc. We couldn’t resist and got a few bottles. They are simply amazing over a stack of freshly baked pancakes on lazy weekend brunches at home. They even have their own farm in New Zealand where they produce Manuka Honey. Those who don’t know Manuka Honey has incredible qualities and health benefits.
Nishiki Market is also a paradise for matcha tea lovers. I started enjoying the flavor of matcha only after coming to Japan (for some reason matcha in US is too bitter and rich in umami flavor for me), so I made sure to get the full set for making my own matcha tea at home (maybe while I also indulge in those pancakes with honey): highest grade ceremony tea powder (in two different stores), bamboo whisk and scoop, gorgeous clay handmade and hand-painted mugs.
In regards to the latter, make sure you check out the artisan shop Pulao Deco which stole my heart. They sell handmade artisan arts, crafts and crockery which is so tasteful and creative. I literally wanted to buy everything, but had to limit myself to two mugs with cute owl motifs. I vowed to return here again to get some more on my next visit.
Another store I’d recommend visiting is Ichihara Heibei Shōten, a well-ordered boutique where hundreds of chopsticks are organized by type of wood (cedar, bamboo, birch), use (eating, cooking), and style. The best part is that you can have your chopstick engraved with your name in English or Japanese!
I also got two more mugs with pretty flower patterns there as well as a few chopstick holders.
You can also spend a little fortune on artisan knives at Aritsugu shop, a former samurai sword manufacturer that dates back to the 16th century.
Nishikikoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku (between Teramachi and Takakura)
9am-5pm, varies for individual stalls. Some shops closed on Wednesday
3min walk from Shijo Station, Karasuma subway line
3min walk from Karasuma or Kawaramachi Station, Hankyu line
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