The potential of this street extends beyond these 400 metres. Running perpendicular to Nishiki Market is Teramachi-dori (寺町通), an organized labyrinth of shops and restaurants worth exploring. Weaved into the smaller lanes, you will find vintage shops, small eateries, and the famous Sou•Sou shops. Parallel to Nishiki Market is the shopping belt of Kyoto, Shijō-dori (四条通), where you’ll find bigger shopping malls and boutique shops. We’ll dedicate a separate post to these later on. Stay tuned!
The array of fresh vegetables, local fruits, seafood, meat, pickled foodstuff, condiments, and ingredients will have you weaving in and out of the traditional food shops if you love to cook. Such was the allure of seeing in person, those heirloom Kyoto vegetables (京野菜 kyōyasai) cultivated since the Meiji Era, that you’ve only heard of, or seen on television – the sweet spring onions called Kujo negi (九条ねぎ), round eggplants called Kamo eggplants (賀茂茄子), and large chestnuts called Tanba chestnuts (丹波栗). And of course, all those fresh vegs and Japanese pickles!
While these traditional food shops lure the local housewives and chefs with their fresh produce, seafood and meat, we travelers can indulge in the other kind of stores found here – cooked or ready-to-eat food.
In Asia, and as in Japan, we are blessed with street food – little bites that we can eat and share before we continue walking. It’s one of the many charms of traveling in this part of the world.
Here are our top 5 must-eats in Nishiki Market.
1. Soy Mini Donuts – Konnamonjya
No one zooms past without making a stop at Konnamonjya (こんなもんじゃ) for a freshly fried bag of mini donuts. These bite-size donuts are made from soy milk and attribute to its light taste. I usually steer away from most donuts and their saccharine oiliness. Non-sugary, these mini donuts are light and crisp. We easily devour a bag of 12 mini donuts in original flavor (¥300) and contemplated whether to go for more.
We refrained but made a mental note to come back for more, which we did on our walk back this 400-metre market. Craving something different, we tried the soy milk donuts with roasted soybean flour or kinako (きなこ) and brown sugar drizzle. We prefer the original, unadulterated version.
2. Dashimaki Tamago – Miki Keiran
Egg lovers mustn’t miss this! This dashimaki tamago (だし巻き) or Japanese rolled omelet at Miki Keiran (三木鶏卵) got us real bad! Different from the usual tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) which tends to be sweeter with added sugar and mirin (味醂), dashimaki tamago tends to more savory.
At the stall, you will see them pan-frying the eggs in the background, while the stall front sells eggs neatly categorized into various grades.
We couldn’t wait so we tore open the carefully wrapped packaging while standing beside the stall. Most locals buy it home, adding this simple delicacy to their meals.
Gone in a few minutes, the dashimaki tamago was moist, thick, and bursting with a deep, lingering flavor derived from dried kelp or kombu (昆布) and fermented skipjack tuna or katsuobushi (鰹節). Umami 旨み!
3. Fresh Kusa Mochi – Nishiki Mochitsuki-Ya
There’s never a chance to eat fresh mochi in our home country. Every time we visit Nishiki Market, we never fail to make a stop at Nishiki Mochitsuki-Ya (錦もちつき屋) for their charcoal-grilled mochi.
The mochi was soft & chewy, and in itself not sweet. The slight fragrance of mugwort, which was pounded into the mochi to give its green hue, wafted into our noses as we savor its sweet red bean filling. The charcoal grill gave the mochi a nice smoky taste. Imagine eating warm, smoky mochi filled with sweet red beans on a cold day in autumn or winter! The perfect snack for any mochi-lover!
4. Tanba Chestnuts – Kyotanba
They are huge! Their sizes stopped us in our tracks. That, and the toasty smell of roasting chestnuts lingering in the autumn air. Handpicked from the Funai District in northern Kyoto, these enormous Tanba chestnuts 丹波栗 go through careful selection by hand. Only those with high sugar content, and of considerable sizes are sold in the store. They are then roasted and inspected again before sold in packs of ¥1,000 (small bag), ¥2,000 (medium bag) t0 ¥3,000 (big bag).
5. Japanese Pickles – Uchida
Ok, we cheated on this one. It’s not exactly street food. But then again, we bought some back home on a plane. we love the crunchy, tangy yuzu radish, which I don’t see in Japanese grocers and supermarkets back home. The pickles (tsukemono 漬け物) in Kyoto are less salty than those we buy from supermarkets and eat in some Japanese restaurants back home. We think it’s due to the delicate palate of the Kyoto people. It’s no wonder they are must-buy souvenirs for foodies.
Uchida has a wide assortment of pickled vegetables, having been in Nishiki Market since 1937. You can pick to your hearts’ content at Uchida. Remember to have the pickles vacuum-sealed if you’re packing them for the plane.
pling thinks…if you want to explore a traditional food market in Kyoto, this is the one to go to for its heritage food stores and its wide assortment. If you like yuzu, we would recommend stopping by Eitaro for their yuzu ramen. It’s right along Nishikikoji-dori (錦小路通).
How to get to Nishiki Market
Open 9.30am – 5pm
Some shops, we noticed, close earlier.
- From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Line and alight at Shijō Station (四条駅). Exit station by Exit 1. Cross the road towards Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporate (SMBC, 三井住友銀行). Walk along Karasuma Dori (烏丸通). Turn right to Nishikikoji Dori (錦小路通). It’s about a 5-minute walk.
- You can also take the Hankyu Kyoto Line and alight at Karasuma Station. After that, walk along Shijō Dori (四条通), towards Karasuma Dori (烏丸通), and find the same landmark of SMBC.
Many buses go to Shijō Dori 四条通, which is the main shopping district – 5, 101, 205 & 206.