Vegetable brand “Kyoyasai” worth trying

August 6, 2018

Risa Uemura, Mika Nakajima and Mai Hayakawa

What are kyoyasai ?

Kyoto is far from the sea, so it was hard for people to get seafood a long time ago. That’s why people living in Kyoto used to eat mainly vegetables. 1,000 years ago, local people presented the Emperor, who used to live in Kyoto, with several vegetables grown in other prefectures in Japan. Then these vegetables were grown in Kyoto and became good quality thanks to the climate, clean water and cultivation methods there. This was the beginning of Kyoyasai and Kyoto’s speciality vegetables. Even now, some of these vegetables are still grown using the same traditional methods.

There are several requirements for vegetables to be registered as kyoyasai. To suit the image of Kyoto, they have to ship to other prefectures, and must consistently meet the quality standards. Farmers must avoid using pesticides under the Kyoto Kodawari cultivation rules. Also, only types of vegetables that have been grown before the Meiji era are allowed to be called kyoyasai. These special vegetables are used in restaurants and even at home for cooking.  Recently, scientists discovered that “Kyoyasai has an original smell, taste and colors. Furthermore, they have many health benefits such as preventing cancer and keeping a healthy weight as they are low in calories.”


Kyoto vegetables which you can try now

Currently, there are twenty types of Kyoto vegetables registered. Some of them are available to harvest all-year round, and some are only available at certain times of the year. Kyoto Mizuna (pother mustard), Kujo green onions, and Mibuna (similar to pother mustard) are grown all-year. Kyoto Mizuna has leaves with a deep slit, and has a crisp texture. It can be cooked in various ways in a range of dishes, for example, with deep-fried bean curd (tofu), dishes prepared in seasoned broth, salads, and can be made into delicious light pickles. Kyoto’s famous springtime vegetable is takenoko (bamboo shoots), also called shiroko. Compared to other bamboo shoots, these have a sweeter taste, and the texture is fleshy and soft. In summer, shishigatani kabocha (pumpkin) is popular. It has a rough shape, like Japanese gourd. Due to its shape, it is sometimes used like a plate, with other food placed on top. An example dish is shishigatani kabocha, which is pumpkin stuffed with minced beef. The shape is unique, so people also use it for its appearance. Fall in Kyoto brings eggplants and chillies to the kitchen. They have various shapes, sizes, and other individual features. There are many Kyoto vegetables harvested in the winter. Above all, the most famous vegetables are kintoki ningin (carrot), Horikawa gobo (burdock) and seigoin daikon (radish). Kintoki ningin carrots are bright red from the surface to the inside. Therefore, they are used to add color to winter dishes such as miso soup and osechi (Japanese New Year’s cuisine). The burdock is bigger compared to normal burdock and has a hollow trunk. So, they soak up surrounding flavors. Seigoin daikons do not taste bitter; instead they have a faintly sweet flavor, so they are often used in oden (Japanese hotpot with assorted ingredients like radish, tofu, or boiled egg). Of all the Kyoto vegetables, the most famous are Kujo green onions and Kyoto Mizuna because they are well known and available to harvest all year.


Recommended stores and restaurants for Kyoto vegetables

Finally, we would like to introduce several cafes and restaurants where you can eat Kyoto vegetables. We recommend three restaurants in Kyoto. Isoya on Sanjyo is a casual restaurant where you can eat grilled Kyoto vegetables with an original sauce, a selection of salt, or Miso (bean paste condiment). In the restaurant, fresh Kyoto vegetables which were picked that morning are lined up, and a chef cooks those in front of you. So, you can enjoy eating different Kyoto vegetables and cuisines depending on the day you visit. If you go Isoya, we recommend you reserve in advance.

Gion abbesses on Gion Shijyo is located in an old Kyoto townscape. It is a luxury French restaurant, and you can try authentic French cuisine with colorful Kyoto vegetables. There are more than 150 kinds of wines including natural wines in this restaurant, and you can consult with a wine sommelier.

Obase on Sanjyo. It is a Japanese style restaurant in a renovated kyo-machiya (a traditional tile-roofed wooden house structure with mud walls and an inner garden, built using a framework construction method). This restaurant is very particular about the interior because it chose pieces of furniture to match the traditional building. You can eat original Japanese and Western course meals with Japanese tableware and chopsticks.

We introduced three restaurants where you can eat Kyoto vegetables in a wide variety of dishes. Kyo-branded Products Association (Public Interest Group Corporation) has certified formal Kyoto vegetable dealers in the metropolitan area and the Kinki area as bases for consumption promotion and sales promotion. Now, twenty-five stores in the metropolitan area and twenty-four stores in the Kinki area are certified, and you can easily get Kyoto vegetables at those stores. On the Kyo-branded Products Association’s official site, a lot of cooking recipes using Kyoto vegetables have been released. If you are interested in those dishes, please try cooking them yourself at home!


Obanzai: Kyoto Home Cooking

by Maya Nogami

In Kyoto, people call the daily meals cooked in their own home, obanzai. It is similar to the home cooking of other regions. However, some dishes are different because they use Kyo-yasai, Kyoto-grown vegetables, or use traditional Kyoto tsukemono, which are a type of pickles.

Recently in Kyoto we can find many restaurants that serve obanzai. However, a long time ago it was just simply the daily meals, and people usually ordered special dishes from a shidashi-ya, a home delivery service, when visitors came.

Obanzai has its origins in folk wisdom. A long time ago there was not enough food, so people had to use everything they could eat. Therefore, they used the skins of vegetables, pieces of dried bonito after it was used for soup stock, and so on. This is characteristic of obanzai. Also, using seasonal ingredients is an important aspect of obanzai. This is because a long time ago people could not get food out of season because there were no supermarkets or convenience stores like now. Moreover, there were no modern appliances such as electric refrigerators, so people had to quickly consume food while it was fresh. So people created various types of obanzai using the same ingredient.

Anyway, even though obanzai is the home cooking of people in Kyoto, nowadays the style is changing.

In fact, there are many obanzai restaurants, and visitors go there to eat obanzai as a representative food of Kyoto. Moreover, there is the chance to learn how to cook obanzai when people visit Kyoto.

As I have written, people emphasize the relationship between seasons, customs, and events with obanzai ingredients. For example, in July, hamo (a type of eel) is a very popular ingredient of obanzai, and it is considered a delicacy. (As an aside, during the Gion Festival in July, people in Kyoto eat many hamo dishes, so this festival is also called the Hamo Festival.)

The following recipe is for Satsumaimo (sweet potato) no Amani.

l Satsumaimo (sweet potato)
l Sugar
l Mirin (sweet sake for seasoning)
l Salt

How to cook:

1. After washing the sweet potato, cut it into slices of about 1.5 cm.
2. Soak the slices in water, and change the water 2 or 3 times until the water is no longer cloudy.
3. Boil the sweet potato with sugar, and after the sweet potato becomes soft, add sweet sake for seasoning and a little bit of salt.

However, if you’d like to enjoy tasting many different kinds of obanzai, there are some restaurants in Kyoto that serve obanzai dishes as a smorgasbord. One such restaurant is Gyaatei in Arashiyama. At lunchtime you can try about 30 different types of obanzai, such as tofu dishes, boiled and seasoned dishes, and miso soup, as part of a smorgasbord. (The cost is 1,980 yen, and you can eat for one hour.) Or you can buy obanzai at some supermarkets.

If you want to try real authentic traditional Kyoto home cooking, why don’t you taste obanzai?