One of the main reasons to be in Kyoto: to buy delicious things at the market and eat! Of course, if you’re into teahouses and geishas, this is also the place to be. 😉
In my Osaka post, I mentioned that the Kuromon Ichiba Market there was pretty subpar, it is because when I visited the Nishiki Market in Kyoto, I know what a real Japanese market should be like! But before that, let’s go through some basic travel tips.
What’s so great about Nishiki Market?
It is known as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’, the one place you can get all the freshest seafood, meat, vegetables, cookware and other local produce. Not only that, there are over 100 shops and restaurants within the long, narrow street – some which serves very unique food like the ochazuke (read further below), which I tried. In short, lots to buy, lots to eat and lots to experience.
Great! Now, how do I get there?
Using my location in Namba Nankai Station as a point of reference, we took the Osaka City Subway on the Midosuji Line towards the Umeda Station. From there, switch to the Osaka platform on the Hankyu Railway that heads to Kawaramachi Station (Arashiyama area). The travel time from Umeda to Kyoto is about 36 minutes, at a fare of JPY400/MYR12. From there on, you need to walk to Nishiki Market, it’s about 15 minutes away.
Do I need to bring anything?
Unlike our last trip to Nara, we didn’t have to bring any extra items other than shopping bags (the recyclable kind) to carry the food stash we undoubtedly are going to buy. If you’re the kind to succumb to food-shopping, bring a couple of bags.
If you haven’t already, check out my first post on Osaka which contains travel tips and recommendations. That post also contains all the links to the other places I have visited during my trip.
I won’t lie – finding the Nishiki Market can be tricky. It took us quite a few twists and turns, and asking about 4 different locals before we finally found it. I would suggest you print out a Google Map image of the location (like below), and try to find your way around. You can also use a GPS (mine somehow couldn’t find the place). If in doubt, just ask the locals, Nishiki Market is pretty popular.
Upon arriving, we are immediately accosted by delicious smells and – surprise, surprise.. none of that disgusting market smells or dirty water awaiting you, unlike the markets here in Malaysia. Japanese cleanliness standards are always amazing (truly amazing for me, because I come from Malaysia, and nothing is ever clean, especially the markets!) and will never cease to please.
Happy enough that we made it, and everything seems to be exciting, we made our way through the market. It’s going to be a long walk from this end to the other, and back again (we’d need to retrace our steps back to the Kawaramachi Station). On our way in we spotted so many fresh produce on sale (at very good prices too!) and a few restaurants.
Most shops here sell very unique items and they offer samples for tasting – you get all sorts of weird and wonderful things. My mom got a taste of some pickled radish and cucumber, and immediately bought 6 packets of those (each going for only 100JPY/MYR3 when you buy 6 or more), together with some other condiments I have no name for.
FUN FACT: Opened in 1310, Nishiki Market used to be a wholesale fish market. Later on, as more variety of shops moved in, the place changed from wholesale to retail, attracting even more local patrons, as well as tourists.
Later on, we stopped at this restaurant, Nishiki Mochitsukiya which appears to be selling freshly made mochi, workers are seen busy pounding the mochi with a hammer. Because it looked quite different from the usual sushi and ramen establishments, we decided to give it a go. The restaurant specializes in mochi – but not just the dessert kind. They few kinds of food from the photo menu we saw; a soup noodle with mochi with tempura, ochazuke (sometimes known as bubuzuke) with mochi and a special mochi tasting platter.
It’s all in Japanese, so we decided to order according to the menu’s photos. Mom ordered the noodle with mochi and tempura, whereas me and Tricia had the ochazuke. Ochazuke is a traditional Japanese meal (and the quintessential Kyoto comfort food) where you add in some condiments for flavoring to rice, and pour green tea over it. Japanese rice is very absorbent, so you get the tea’s aroma and the flavor of the condiments contained in each rice grain.
My ochazuke meal came with a bowl of rice, topped with a generous piece of mochi and nori (seaweed). Our condiments consists of dried herring, anchovies, chopped radish and pickled vegetables – even a small drop of wasabi. We even have a dessert mochi to have after the meal. And of course, a pot of green tea. I just dumped all the condiments in, and poured the tea over, and mix it up with my chopsticks.
Verdict? Delicious! This being my first time having ochazuke, I was so afraid it would be weird combination, but not at all! It is honestly one of the best meals I had in Japan. The combination was good, the mochi in my bowl was surprisingly good, and adds a very nice texture. When it came to dessert, it was a sweeter mochi and even that was good. I would recommend you to give that a try.
With a full stomach, we walked around some more to sample a few more interesting food stuff.
You must always come to Nishiki Market with a greedy tummy and a curious tastebud, as nothing is ever the same in most shops.
We stopped by a curious shop, Sawawa, where they seem to be making a mountain of green-tea mochi cubes with a rotating rock grinder to make the Uji matcha powder as fine as possible. Uji is a city in Kyoto known for producing superior quality tea. We tried a piece and OMG, it’s one of the best things I’ve tasted! This is a real Japanese treat! The matcha is fine, and the mochi just melts in your mouth, leaving behind a cool sensation. It was so good, my mom immediately snapped up a 250g box for JPY500/MYR15. The only downside is, we can’t carry them back as they do not last long. Greedily, we consumed everything despite our full meal from Mochitsukiya prior to this. It’s THAT good!
We walked on and came across a few shops selling grilled baby octopus, the red kind you find in most sushi shops. Of course it was good, and they are sold aplenty in most shops. I even stopped by one fish store, to have their salmon sashimi on a stick. Yums! I can see why everyone loves to come here, I’d come here everyday too! So much to taste and try. It’s the perfect gastronomic experience.
In the Shinkyogoku part of the market, we saw a shop with pretty modern, automated machines making pancakes with white bean paste in them. They didn’t taste as good as we thought they would, but it wasn’t too bad. But it wasn’t good enough to tempt us into buying an entire box.
Once we had our fill of the market, we decided to venture out, and scour the area for the mystical streets of Gion. It is one of the more famous geisha streets in Japan, with old buildings and teahouses still intact. When you step into Gion, the chances of you catching a glimpse of a geisha or two is quite probable. You’ll see them in their exquisite kimonos, going from teahouse to teahouse in their cumbersome zori sandals. We managed to spot a few, but since we were there so early, most of them didn’t have their full makeup on yet. But seeing them in their kimonos is breathtaking enough.
Seeing how the shopping district is not very far away from us, we decided to head there and check it out. There are quite a few shops and malls around the area, so we just walked aimlessly and window shopped. Some of the shops sell pretty unique items.
And then, we came to this corner of a street – AND SAW IT. A proper cat cafe! My sister and I ran right towards the entrance of this Wan Nyan Chu Cat Cafe and cannot help admiring the lovely kitties inside. Boy, are they huge too. The cafe had set rules and protocols to go about: no carrying or mishandling the cats, no feeding and we must have our hands thoroughly sanitised before entry.
Kyoto was so much fun, but towards the evening, we had to start making our way back to Namba. If I could come back to Japan, it would be for Kyoto, its lovely food market and the beautiful culture. It’s a foodie’s haven, and I would like to experience an ochaya-asobi in an actual teahouse the next time round. 🙂