April 16, 2005
by Aiko Yoshiba, Yuka Keitoku, & Ikue Kawasaki
Kyo yasai are traditional vegetables in Kyoto. They have unique shapes, vivid colors and are rich in nutrition. For these reasons, Kyoto vegetables are highly valued. In all, 41 kinds of vegetables in Kyoto are designated as traditional vegetables. On the storefronts of the vegetable shops, there are colorful vegetables in each season. Even just seeing them is a treat. You can also buy kyo yasai on the Internet. Many Japanese restaurants and Japanese-style hotels in Kyoto use kyo yasai for tea-ceremony dishes and vegetarian cuisine because these kinds of dishes rely on the taste of Kyoto vegetables as they are. Recently, however, some French and Italian restaurants in Kyoto have also created dishes using kyo yasai. Why and how are Kyoto vegetables becoming so popular? We would like to go into details of their attraction.
What are Kyoto Vegetables?
Kyo yasai have been cultivated since well before the Meiji era. In fact, they have been a delicacy in Kyoto for many hundreds of years. In the past, Kyoto flourished as Japan’s center of politics and culture. As it was far away from the sea and had a lot of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, vegetarian dishes developed. Kyoto also had a good climate for growing vegetables — a raw winter and extremely hot summer — and its farmers’ efforts continued for a long time, developing up to the present day. Compared with other vegetables, kyo yasai are a little bit sweeter and have attractive colors. Also, some of them have strange forms.
Mizuna is a potherb mustard plant. Once mizuna was grown a lot around Mibu Temple. In that area, beautiful, pure water comes out from underground, so it was easy to grow the plant and to control the water for irrigation. Because of this, growing districts expanded from the north to the south in Kyoto.
Mizuna has a green, feathery leaf and its leafstalk is white and very thin. The color contrast is really beautiful. Its flavor has no harshness and while chewing you can enjoy its crunchiness. Mizuna goes well with almost any ingredients. You can eat it as a pickle, boil it, fry it, or toss it in a salad. We tend to eat a lot of this leafy vegetable in winter.
Kamo eggplant is raised in Kamigamo in the northern part of Kyoto city. Kamo eggplants are summer vegetables. They have a fat, rounded shape, a deep glowing purple color and a long, sharp stem. They weigh from 300g to 400g. They also have a solid, fresh pulp with a rich flavor. So, they are well-suited to dishes boiled and seasoned, or grilled with oil.
Kujo Negi is a kind of a long green onion. Its name comes from the fact that a lot of it was produced near Kujo in Kyoto in the Edo period. Grown in winter, it is said to improve in flavor during severely cold weather. Compared with other green onions, it has a lot of sticky juice, oneba in Japanese, which makes the taste sweeter. And then, the contrast of color is also peculiar: the green, leafy part is larger than the white root. The leaf is also soft, and you can cook and eat all of it.
Shishigatani kabocha is a traditional Japanese pumpkin that has long been produced near Shishigadani in the Sakyo Ward of Kyoto. The shape, like a gourd, is very characteristic and interesting, so it is used not only for cooking but also as an ornament and a vase. The rind is also unique: as it matures, the color changes from green to orange. It has a lightly seasoned taste and is less sweet than Ebisu pumpkin, which has spread widely. Above all, it plays an important part in “Kabocha Kuyo”, an annual ceremony held at Anrakuji Temple in July. It is believed that eating the pumpkin on that day will prevent paralysis.
Kyo takenoko (bamboo shoots in Kyoto) are representative of spring vegetables. Unlike the wild variety, they all are raised by farmers’ hands. These shoots have a sweet taste and soft flesh. Fresh bamboo shoots in Rakusai, (the western part of Kyoto city) are eaten uncooked just after they are dug, dipped only in vinegared miso. This is the best way to taste kyo takenoko.
RESTAURANTS WE RECOMMEND
Have a nice meal with atmosphere! You can eat French dishes with Kyoto vegetables. The restaurant has kept the atmosphere of an old Japanese house of the late Meiji era. You can enjoy eating French dishes with chopsticks in tatami rooms. If you cannot use them, don’t worry! You can also use a knife and fork. Each dish has a lot of kyo yasai, so it is light and healthy. For example, tilefish with spiny lobster sauce and garnished with spinach, tomato, and green asparagus. This restaurant generally serves course meals. Lunch costs about 3000-4000 yen, and dinner about 4000-6000 yen. You can have relaxing time and take time for eating!
There are two omoya here. One is located at the corner of Higashinotoin Street and Nishiki Street. The other is located where Fuyacho Street meets Nishikikoji Street. Both restaurants are similar but their menus are not the same. And since they are close to each other you can find both easily.
French Omoya Higashinotoin-ten
Rokkakukudaru Higashinotoin Street, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Open 11:30~14:30, 17:00~22:30
French Omoya Fuyacho-ten
Nishikikojikudaru Fuyacho Street, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Open 12:00~15:30, 17:30~22:30
This is a very famous Italian restaurant in the Kansai area where you can enjoy eating handmade pasta and a lot of delicious and original dishes made of various local foods in Kyoto, such as kyo yasai: for example, “Salad Capriccioso” with various fresh kyo yasai. You will enjoy not only the good flavors but also the beautiful appearances of the dishes. The restaurant is located next to Yasaka Pagoda in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward and you can go there by city bus (routes 100 and 206) to Gion. It is so popular that you must reserve a table as early as possible. Lunch costs about 3000-5000 yen and dinner about 8000-10,000 yen. It may be more expensive than other restaurants, but we assure you that you will be impressed by the dishes at Il Ghiottone.
Tel: 075-532-2550 (you can only reserve a table by telephone )
This is near Saiin Station in Western Kyoto. You can feel the easygoing spaces inside and relax like at home. Moreover, the atmosphere is like a machiya (the traditional wooden townhouses of Kyoto). Nanahei’s dishes are mixtures of Japanese and Western or Chinese cuisines, so you can enjoy their new tastes with kyo yasai, which are used abundantly. Nanahei has also a dining bar so you can drink delectable cocktails, beer and sake!
2F NUT’S Higashi Nishiojishijyo, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto
For Body & Mind
Kyo yasai have been raised for a long time with farmers’ hard efforts and a blessed environment with abundant, high-quality water and suitable weather. People in Kyoto have used, cooked and maintained their traditional vegetables for a long time, developing many vegetarian dishes. While preserving the traditional cuisine, Kyoto’s chefs creatively used kyo yasai in Western dishes as well. Try them and you may realize they are tastier than regular vegetables. Seeing them, too, can make you excited. Going to the vegetable shops and looking at fresh vegetables is a good way to have fun. Kyo yasai are found in a wide choice of dishes, from expensive vegetarian or tea-ceremony dishes to Kyoto’s local cuisine. The most important thing is to taste Kyoto vegetables in Kyoto. These fresh and hearty vegetables will soothe your body and mind.