Food moves me. It is a driving force in my life and an essential part of how I travel. I am not alone in this journey. My partner in life is my partner in crime and many travel-related decisions are made around food.
As the world gets smaller and a large variety of food is available all year long, we lose our respect for the seasons and for the unique local characteristics of food that makes regional differences regional.
When the Misadventures family plans its trips, my husband focuses on the activities and sites (particularly from a photographic perspective) and I focus on the food (and all things related to food, although the Misters definitely contributes).
As I was preparing for my trip to Kyoto I was doing my typical research, checking out what other bloggers have had to say about this area of Japan, I came across a truly exceptional piece written by Matt Goulding of Roads & Kingdoms about Japanese cuisine and Kyoto in particular. If you have any interest in Japanese food at all, I implore you to read it.
Kyoto approaches food the way it should be. Seasonally. Locally.
But don’t get me wrong. There are more Starbucks in Kyoto than in my own town of Berkeley, they have made their presence known, but after spending a week eating in the city, I can tell you that Starbucks is not a driving force in the lives of the people in this town. However, there is a real danger that it could be. The youth, just like everywhere else in the world, may abandon their regional and cultural roots if Japanese cuisine is not protected.
I digress, this is not a post on food politics, it is a love letter to Kyoto and in particular to Nishiki Market, the city’s 400-year old food center. Before heading to Kyoto I reached out to my friends at Context Travel to organize a few tours. As it is a city of temples, I wasn’t surprised that there were plenty of tours associated with visiting temples, but I was disappointed there was nothing focused on cuisine. No problem. The wonderful, amazing, smart folks at Context Travel created a custom tour for us focused on Nishiki Market and its surrounding area.
We decided to do the tour the first thing in the morning on our first full day. It was my intent to get the lay of the food land at the beginning of our stay so that we could leverage the knowledge the remainder of our stay.
We met our guide Daniel at the Teramachi arcade on Shijo Dori, one of the main thorough-ways in town. As we entered the arcade we visited the Nishiki Tenmangu shrine which faces the Nishiki Market. Before refrigeration, the temple was the source of cold water for the shops and for drinking. And despite the fact that the market now has plumbing, many of the merchants still come for drinking water as it is a source of good luck. In fact, Kyoto’s water is famous (again, if you are interested, read the piece from Roads & Kingdoms) which is why they say the rice and vegetables, well heck everything is so tasty in Kyoto.
As we made our way into the Market, and throughout the morning, Daniel pointed out food history, local specialties and preparation techniques. As is usual with Context Travel, like all the other docents I have encountered on all my other Context travel tours, Daniel was quietly brilliant. Daniel has lived in Kyoto for 9 years and has a Ph.D. in tourism with a focus on sociology and anthropology. He shared a great deal of detail on the market and its foods that we utilized all week.
[In fact, we ate at the market and/or the food courts at the bottom of the Takashimaya department store nearly the entire week. (We also did this in Osaka.) The result? We brought back half of our vacation budget money!]
The market is a dream for foodies. A whirl of activity and very friendly merchants. There is no way to get lost, just follow the beautiful glass roof.
We sampled and tasted so many new things as well as old favorites seen in a new light and with much more appreciation.
As I have a ton of photos, I am going to share some photo essays which will allow me to show more food stories from this special place (see photo grid below).
Hours: Open every day 9:30-6:00, there are a few national holidays that impact the schedule
Website (in Japanese): http://www.kyoto-nishiki.or.jp/
Context Tour: Savoring Nishiki Market
More Nishiki Market Resources
– Condé Nast’s A Guide to Kyoto’s Nishiki Market
– Chef Armoury’s Blog Insider’s Guide to Nishiki Markets, Kyoto
– Saveur’s Nishiki Market guide
– The Kitchn Nishiki Market
– White on Rice Couple’s Nishiki Market post
How about you? Do you like food markets? Where is your favorite one?