When you are focused on producing exceptional food using the magnificent natural resources at your disposal (also known as farming) the possibilities are endless. When my grandparents farmed in Iowa and when my husband’s grandparents farmed in France, people ate seasonally and they used every last part of every food item.
What I loved about the food scene in Kyoto is that despite having more modern methods of food preparation, traditional methods are still used because you cannot replace the essential flavors that come from producing it the “hard” way.
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During our tour of the Nishiki Market with Context Travel, Daniel showed us a lot of the artisinal styles of preparation. One such method is nukazuke, using rice husks or rice bran to ferment vegetables. (Here is a fantastic blog post from the Kyoto Foodie that details the process.) You can find many merchants selling a variety of vegetables using this method throughout Nishiki market.
I love the fact that every part of the rice is used. From the husks to the stalk. And in so many ways. One of our favorite teas is the genmai cha sometimes called Kyoto (roasted) rice tea which is delicious! And several afternoons we snacked on a variety of roasted rice cakes from the rice shop.
Another method for preparing vegetables (and fish too) is miso. They might not be the most appealing items in the market, but I find it fascinating! These are uncooked eggplants in a miso mixture with mirin sake, ginger and sugar – they are marinating in the mixture so that when you cook them it is absorbed into the vegetable.
Vegetables in Kyoto are revered and have special labels or names. A lot of them are named after temples or shrines. One example of this is the Shogoin which is a daikon (turnip).
The temple Shogoin is considered to be the birthplace of this daikon. As you can see, it has round shape, is fleshy and sweet and is used for cooking furofuki and other boiled dishes. Only vegetables from Kyoto can be labeled this way. It reminds me a lot of the French AOC classifications.
Here is a photo of kuwai bulbs which are a local specialty similar to a potato in taste. Doesn’t it look like garlic?
I was so happy to be in Kyoto during chestnut season and to see what they look like in their natural state. I had a variety of treats with chestnut as the star – from ice cream to dumplings. Of course one of my favorite ways to eat them is roasted. Who could resist?
So many fun things to explore! Kyoto is definitely a town for vegetarians which I’m not, but appreciate nonetheless. One day while we were about an hour outside of Kyoto visiting a temple we had an entire meal consisting of vegetables including purple yam ice cream for desert.
You can’t really say that vegetables are the star of the market at Nishiki, it is more like part of an ensemble cast with the fish and mochi and many, many other culinary delights, but vegetables are definitely an important part of every citizen of Kyoto’s life.
How about you? Do you have an “old-school” cooking method that you use? Does the thought of an all-vegetable meal inspire you or make you want to run the other direction?