Field Report: Kyōto (11 April 2013) – Part 2/3

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Where Diego says hello to an old friend, goes to the market, and watches a geisha performance.

Second part of three.

I’ve known for some time that Nishiki Market was something of a local institution – apparently there are those who refer to it as “Kyōto’s kitchen” – but I’ve never swung by in my previous visits to the city. Time to redress that oversight with a leisurely stroll through this long covered market, which is very narrow but stretches on for several blocks (I had to cross the street more than once).

The map shows the start of the covered market, from the intersection at the centre and stretching off to the right. Drag away and see how long it goes.

Better yet, take Google’s street view for a spin and go on a virtual walk through the whole thing. (Note that the plain flat map will load first; give it a few moments to kick into street view.)

Nice enough for a preview, but no substitute for the real deal. This is one of those places that’s best appreciated as a full-on multi-sensory experience, with the mind fully engaged to take in not only the sights but also the sounds, smells, flavours, and textures (only where permitted of course – don’t just go around randomly touching the merchandise!). I sure wish I’d taken a video, or more photographs. Alas, bear in mind that this is not just a tourist trap but a fully functioning marketplace; standing still for any extended period whilst harried shoppers and visitors mill about you isn’t exactly recommended. Also, I imagine some shop owners will be more disposed to having pictures taken of their wares than others, so I snapped away only infrequently and as discreetly as possible.

All right, let’s set off. Perhaps Nishiki’s most distinctive feature is its colourful skylight, which runs pretty much for its entire length and helps remind you that even after a few blocks of walking, you’re still in the same market.

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On either side of the narrow street are stalls selling a bewildering array of merchandise – mostly food and kitchenware of course.

Some of the items on offer are easy enough to recognise. Dried fish for example . . .

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. . . or an assortment of liquor . . .

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. . . or a rich variety of that wonderful culinary staple, tamagoyaki. Given that I normally stay well clear of seafood, this is one of the few items I can freely enjoy at sushi bars (the occasional splash of dashi in the egg mix or sauce doesn’t bother me).

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Flowers – yep, still on terra firma here.

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Then things start to get fuzzy. These vegetables swimming in, er, something, are likely tsukemono.

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More pickled vegetables.

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And then we enter the realm of the just-plain-weird. These are either aubergines slathered with miso, or vegetables pickled in sake lees, or – perhaps most plausibly – egg sacs laid by an extraterrestrial life-form of some kind. Take your pick.

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Unless you have a doctorate in Japanese cuisine – or know enough kanji to read all the signs and labels – a lot of the stuff in this market will likely fall into an iffy grey area of classification. But hey, I think that only adds to the fun.

Different varieties of konbu.

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An assortment of dried edibles (I can see furikake and senbei in there, amongst others).

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Chopstick rests, I believe . . .

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. . . and the chopsticks themselves.

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Can’t forget the sweets!

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That, of course, isn’t even half of it. Probably isn’t even half of half of half of half of half of it. There’s just so much to see and sample here.

Mixed in amongst the establishments selling traditional goods are a crop of newer souvenir stores catering mainly to tourists. Some may be inclined to view their intrusion in a slightly negative light, but certain shops are probably better than others, and it wouldn’t be fair to tar them all with the same brush. I just hope they don’t proliferate to the point where they crowd out the more traditional businesses that give this market its special character.

Next on our itinerary: we’re off to the theatre.

One response to “Field Report: Kyōto (11 April 2013) – Part 2/3

  1. Pingback: Field Report: Seoul (12 October 2013) – Part 2/2 | Within striking distance·

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