If you want to immerse yourself in the traditional food scene of Kyoto, nothing compares to Nishiki Market. Called the "Kitchen of Kyoto," Nishiki was established in 1310 as a fish market. Since Kyoto is a landlocked city, fresh fish was never the specialty here. Instead, the market was - and still is - host to mostly dried and preserved seafood.
Even if fish isn't your thing, you'll still find a wide variety of delicious food to tempt you as you walk through the 6 block covered market. Nishiki Market is a part of KyoTour Japan's Grand Kyoto Tour, where we usually do a walking lunch through the market (a sit down lunch in a restaurant is possible as well).
Unlike the famous fish market in Tokyo, Nishiki has much more variety. Local restaurants shop here in the morning, and menus will change daily depending on what looks fresh and tasty in the shops. The pictures below should give you an idea of how many different foods are available at Nishiki Market. There really is something for everyone here!
A few items stand out from the rest in Nishiki. The market is very famous for it's pickled vegetables. Japanese pickles are a little different than the ones in the West in these ones still taste very fresh and have a real crunch to them. They'll pickle just about anything here, and the items on display change by season. My favorite is the pickled pumpkin available in summer, but pickled bamboo shoot season is a great time of year as well.
Another specialty of Nishiki is a sea eel called hamo. Most guests get a little squeamish when asked if they want to try some eel, but they're always pleasantly surprised when they take their first bite! One famous hamo shop prepares the eel in three different styles: grilled teriyaki, crispy tempura, or fried with onion sauce. This hamo eel might be my favorite thing in the whole market!
Now I'll admit that this next one just isn't for me and it's fine to be a little picky once in a while, but one snack that's become really popular recently in Nishiki is the baby octopus on a stick. Each octopus has a hard-boiled quail egg inside its head, making for a very interesting treat. If you have the guts to try this one, I say go for it!
One of my favorite places to stop in Nishiki is a store that sells home made sake rice alcohol. The owner's family has been making sake for generations, and it's easy to see why he's so proud of his alcohol once you try it. His current seasonal variety is a sweet summer sakei made using only sweet rice and special water. No sugar!
This sake shop is interesting because they also sell beautiful hand made pottery. You can browse some amazing sake cup sets or even experience the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi through the imperfections and ruggedness of the matcha teacups on display. This store is a real treat for lovers of strong drink and beautiful handicrafts.
Further proving that Nishiki Market is a great destination for handicrafts, knife lovers will be in heaven at Aritsugi. This is one of Japan's top knife shops, and they have the history to back it up. Aritsugi used to make swords for the imperial family, but when laws were passed in 1876 banning samurais from carrying swords, this shop turned to making knives instead of weapons. Applying the same swordmaking techniques, Aritsugi's knives have become world famous for their quality and beauty. They also produce various kitchen goods like graters, bowls, kettles, and even uniquely shaped cookie cutters.
Check out some footage of Nishiki Market in the video below. KyoTours took four friends through Kyoto for a fun afternoon of food and adventure, and they even tried the baby octopus on a stick!