April 16, 2005
by Aiko Yoshiba; Yuka Keitoku; Ikue Kawasaki
Nishiki Ichiba, the most important market in Kyoto, is a 1500-meter-long covered arcade of shops on Nishikikoji Avenue between Teramachi and Takakura Streets. Called “The Kitchen of Kyoto” (Kyo no daidokoro), it is rich in original and seasonal foods of Kyoto which a lot of people often use for their dishes. Not only people who are searching for special cooking ingredients, such as the proprietresses of Japanese inns (okami) and chefs of Japanese restaurants, but also homemakers and tourists are attracted to this colorful market.
Nishiki has a long history that originated about 400 years ago, but its true beginnings go back even further. When Japan’s capital was first transferred to Kyoto, the distribution network for goods was undeveloped and citizens couldn’t enjoy eating a wide variety of foods. In 1573, a lot of local merchants visited Kyoto’s Imperial Palace to dedicate local products, such as fresh fish and game for meat. Gradually, they got used to cooperating in order to keep these products fresh by utilizing the abundance of freezing underground water beneath Nishiki, which remains 15 degrees C even in summer. Even today, this water guarantees the freshness of fish sold in the market.
However, it took a long time for Nishiki Ichiba to reach its current conditions. At first, it was little more than a fresh fish market. Between 1615 and 1624, Japan’s feudal government officially accepted it as a wholesale dealer in fish. In 1779, Nishiki’s fruit and vegetable market too was accepted officially and opened beside the fish market at last. Since then, many shops have opened and competed with one another, and some of them failed. As a result, merchants instituted a trade association to help support each other. In the early Showa Era (1926-88), Kyoto’s Central Wholesale Market was established and many shops moved there, but those which remained and other new shops worked together for the prosperity of Nishiki Ichiba. Currently, there are about 130 shops. They each have a unique character but they share a commitment to quality.
If you walk in Nishiki Ichiba, you will smell savory aromas and hear the brisk voices of vendors snaring customers everywhere. We are sure you’ll enjoy strolling, shopping and coming into contact with a vital part of Kyoto.
Introducing some interesting shops…
DINDORA for spices and sweets
As you walk in Nishiki Market, you can find a decorative figurine of spice ice cream. You have found Dindora, with its famous, mysterious ice cream! It is said to be world’s first diet ice cream! They say you cannot eat it anywhere else. It costs 263 yen, so it’s reasonable! How is the taste? You think it might be strange, right? Wrong. It is almost the same as vanilla ice cream! But little by little you will feel a slight burning on your tongue. The last flavor, as expected, is spice. Dindora was originally a shop for traditional sweets. Spices were never sold by first manager. This started from the second manager, who wanted to sell some products for summer. Certainly, spice ice cream can provide us with a refreshing feeling, and also keep our body’s metabolism in tune. That’s why women especially like it and it has become very popular. Don’t be afraid, please try this “hot” ice cream!
Next door to Dindora, this shop is famous for ice cream as well. In the daytime there is a long, long line beside the shop. Konnamonja is managed by another shop, Fujino, which mainly sells tofu and daily dishes, and you can also eat some sweets here. Freshly-fried tofu doughnuts and healthy non-fat tofu ice cream are especially famous and there are many other menu items such as black bean coffee, ground soybean mousse, and so on. This is a good spot where you can take a relaxing break in the vigorous Nishiki Market. This shop has been here for ten years. The peak time is from two o’clock. Mostly, daily dishes like tofu and deep-fried tofu are bought here by housewives or other regular customers. There are also some souvenirs for sale such as scarves and badges. The clerks are all young women and the atmosphere is lively!
You can see a lot of barrels standing in a line at this pickle shop, which has been here since 1947. Uchida refuses to discard the traditional flavors and ways of making pickles, and they help us carry to our dining tables the aromas of the earth, barrels, and Kyoto itself. The customers are mainly from Asian countries. Uchida recommends pickles made of pumpkin and mizuna greens, but the best pickle in summer is “greenball”!! Greenball is made from the middle of cabbage or lettuce, and is a refreshing summer vegetable because of its lightly-seasoned taste. Samples are provided for tasting all of the pickles which are sold at Uchida. There are so many kinds that you might get confused about which you had better buy, so how about trying them out by tasting them one at a time?
FUKA for vegetarian delights
For over 130 years, Fuka has provided fu* for the Japanese table. Local people, chefs, and tourists buy fu and nama-fu every day at the Nishiki branch of Fuka, whose main store is in Kamigyo ward. Fuka purveyed fu products to the Imperial Court until it was shifted to Tokyo. Their most popular product is fuka manju, which contains sweet bean paste covered with nama fu, with the flavor of green laver. It is wrapped in a bamboo leaf. If you want to know more about fu and Fuka, the shop has a pamphlet about them in English and French. Fuka’s shop clerks will welcome your curiosity warmly. Visit Fuka and explore new tastes!
*FU: What is fu and nama-fu?
Fu is dried wheat gluten. Nama-fu is raw wheat gluten.
Fu originated in China. Zen monks introduced fu to Japan at the end of the Kamakura period (1192-1333). Fu was a precious protein for Zen monks, who were unable to eat fish and meat in their vegetarian diet. In the Momoyama period (1573-1603), Sen no Rikyu, the greatest tea master, began to use fu and nama-fu in the tea ceremony. As the tea ceremony gradually spread, fu products were used much more widely.
HIRANOYA side dish store
Various dishes are arrayed at the storefront. A saleswoman with a magnificent smile is waiting for you. In the busy kitchen behind her, and cooks dressed in white are bustling around. As afternoon approaches, more and more dishes are displayed. Many tourists and local people come from 11:00 AM to 12:00 noon. In the early evening, housewives come there to get side dishes for supper. Hiranoya is the best place to discover and taste the local cuisine of Kyoto. Side dishes differ in each season. Spring is the season for bamboo shoots. Summer is traditional eggplants in Kyoto. Fall is matsutake mushrooms and chestnuts. Winter is vegetables boiled and seasoned. Why don’t you buy your lunch at Hiranoya and enjoy picnicking on the banks of the Kamo River?
KAZARINISHIKI for souvenirs
Kazarinishiki is an excellent place to buy Japanese souvenirs. We especially recommend it for women. Sundry goods with Kyoto’s taste attract many tourists and even the locals. The owner says that she wants to pursue a variety of goods which are not only traditional and Japanese but also modern and fashionable: cute writing papers, candles, purses, bags, handkerchiefs, miniature folding screens etc… Some of them are Kazarinishiki originals.
Aritsugu deals in hand-crafted knives and cooking utensils, in particular for traditional Kyoto cuisine. The shop was established about 400 years ago and was a purveyor to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Aritsugu’s forging techniques still live on and are developing further due to severe orders from top chefs. The delicate and beautiful utensils you’ll see here will stir up the curiosity of lovers of cooking from all over the world. If you buy a knife, your name or a message can be engraved on it on the spot.
Of course, there are many more shops in Nishiki Market. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find other attractive and interesting shops by yourself? Come to Kyoto and you can do it. Explore fascinating Nishiki Market!!