The covered Nishiki Market (Nishiki-kōji Ichiba) is one of Kyoto’s real highlights, especially if you have an interest in cooking and dining. Commonly known as Kyoto no daidokoro (Kyoto’s kitchen) by locals, this is the place to see the weird and wonderful foods that go into Kyoto cuisine – and where most of Kyoto’s high-end restaurateurs and well-to-do do their food shopping.
Take a stroll down its length and you'll wander past stalls selling everything from barrels of tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and cute Japanese sweets to wasabi salt and fresh sashimi skewers.
The market is quite narrow and can get elbow-to-elbow busy, so try visiting early or later in the afternoon if you prefer a bit of space, but keep in mind many of the stalls close by 5pm. Free samples are on offer in many places, but refrain from eating while walking as it is considered impolite. Some stores also don't appreciate visitors taking photos, so it's a good idea to ask politely before snapping away.
The pedestrian-only, covered Nishiki Market is right in the centre of town, one block north of Shijō-dōri, running from Teramachi shōtengai (market streets) to Takakura-dōri (ending almost behind Daimaru department store). It’s said that there were stores here as early as the 14th century, and it’s known for sure that the street was a wholesale fish market in the Edo period (1603–1868). After the end of Edo, as Japan entered the modern era, the market became a retail market, which it remains today.
The emphasis is on locally produced Japanese food items like tsukemono, tea, beans, rice, seaweed and fish. In recent years the market has been evolving from a strictly local food market into a tourist attraction, and you’ll now find several souvenir shops selling Kyoto-style souvenirs mixed in among the food stalls.
What to eat
There's all manner of delicacies on offer here, with stalls selling soymilk donuts, hand-baked bean crackers, eel rolls and takotamago (small octopus head stuffed with a quail egg on a stick). Just follow your nose and dive right in. If you're scared to commit to a purchase, free samples are often available.
But it's not just food stalls worth visiting here: Aritsugu turns out some of the most exquisite chef knives on earth. Take time to pick the perfect one for your needs, then watch as the craftsmen carefully put a final edge on the knife with the giant round sharpening stone.