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!