Food lovers rejoice, the Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto is a mecca for all kinds of edible goodies. Whether you’re a sweet tooth or a savoury savant, you’ll be absolutely spoilt for choice. And, even if you’re full, you can let your eyes devour the wonderful displays and your nose catalogue some aromas to circle back to on an empty stomach. Plus, there are plenty of shopping opportunities to be had; everything from souvenirs to kitchen tools. With so much to see and do in this huge 400 year old (!) market, let us help you out by recommending some of the best Nishiki Market restaurants and best foods to try.
Takoyaki are so great. Tako (octopus) and yaki (grilled/cooked) give you a hint as to what it is, but…what are these crispy looking balls? The recipe is quite simple, a savoury batter is ladled into hot divotted pans then a small slice of octopus tentacle is dropped into each well. Next comes a sprinkling of fillings—a little spring onion, pickled ginger and perhaps some fried tempura batter bits. The chef uses two sharp pokers to flip them around at lightning speed so they form a crisp little sphere.
You order them in a tray of 6 or more and often get a choice of toppings. Typical is the takoyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire Sauce) plus things like mayo, spring onion, shaved bonito (dried fish) and aonori (seaweed sprinkle). Takoyaki are pretty much always delicious, though Kari Kari Hakase are well known for theirs at Nishiki Market. Follow your nose and the queues.
I love tamagoyaki. Well, that’s a lie. To be clear, I fall into the afore-mentioned ‘savoury savant’ category, so I really dislike the sweetened version. Cold, sweet omelette? Not my jam. I much prefer dashimaki tamago which includes a salty, umami dashi broth to make it juicier and less eggy. At Nishiki Market, you can find the best dashimaki tamago at Tanaka Keiran. They cook it fresh, so your serving is piping hot, burning your fingers through the thin plastic container. It’s the perfect balance of egg and broth, expertly layered and rolled without overcooking. It was savoury and juicy and makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Tucked away beside the store, fingertips and tongue burning during my hasty meal, it’s in my top 3 dashimaki experiences, for sure.
Kyoto and tofu go hand in hand. With so much buddhist history, many foods and dining styles have developed to cater for vegetarianism. There are quite a few tofu specialists at the Nishiki Market, but the most well known is probably Konna Monja. Head there to check out their range of soymilk based treats.
The aroma of these little gems wafted past my nose, carrying me along to the store like an old-fashioned cartoon. A hundred memories of markets, festivals and carnivals flooded through my mind and the next thing I knew, I was walking to my hotel with a bag of twelve hot tofu donuts. I was travelling alone, so you do the math. These were delicious; soymilk donuts could absolutely be mistaken for regular donuts. Pride note: I did not eat the whole bag.
Matcha Soft Serve Tofu Cream
Kyoto is also synonymous with green tea. During your time there, you will no doubt come across all kinds of vibrant matcha (green tea powder) foods. One rather instagrammable matcha treat at the Nishiki Market is matcha soft serve. And, because it’s Kyoto, there are soymilk versions available, too. If you’re vegan or simply curious, go for the tofu cream. It’s smooth, nutty and icy fresh. You can find it in a few places around the market. This one was so inviting that I almost forgot to take a picture (note the lip-marks on the upper quadrant).
You’ll see green coloured snacks all over the market, but a bustling spot for souvenirs or a meal has to be Sawawa. They have a restaurant upstairs, though you can peruse the menu by checking out the plastic food models downstairs.
Baby Octopus stuffed with quail egg
You read that correctly. This is surf and turf on a whole new level. These odd little snacks have become prolific in recent years, now available at multiple stalls in the market. Basically, a quail’s egg is inserted into the head-cavity of a baby octopus. They are boiled, so the egg is cooked through and the octopus chewy and seasoned, but served cold on a stick. From experience, they are better to look at than taste. But when on a food odyssey, you must try it all!
Pickles are a big deal in Japan. They pickle and ferment almost anything. It’s an artform really, and a delicious one at that. Pickles make great beer snacks, rice toppers or digestives at the end of a meal. So many ways to enjoy them, you really have to dive into it. The pickle sellers at Nishiki Market offer a cornucopia of pickles. You can sample most, and buy conveniently sized and sealed packets to take home with you.
Dango are a traditional Japanese sweet made from pounded rice, similar to mochi. The rice is pounded until it becomes a sticky mass and shaped into balls. Usually dango are served skewered and can be served as-is or grilled. Sometimes they are dyed different colours, spread with a sticky sauce or rolled in kinanko (sweet soy powder) like this one. They are a little sticky and chewy but just taste like rice. Quite inoffensive and nice to try such an old-style treat.
Senbei are one of my favourites. It’s basically a rice cracker, usually coated in some delicious savoury glaze or sprinkle, and rival potato chips for dominance in Japanese supermarket snack aisles. One question: have you ever had one giant thick, crunchy chip that takes you a few minutes to eat and kind of fills you up? I have. Except it was a senbei. Try it.
And many more
This has only begun to scratch the surface of what’s on offer at Nishiki Market. There is only so much you can eat and take in on any given visit. We hope this has given you a few ideas about what to eat, though, we suggest you follow your eyes and nose to any of the Nishiki Market restaurants and you won’t go wrong!
Post by Japan Journeys.