JAPAN: Exploring Kyoto’s kitchen

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I’m surrounded by food, but the last thing on my mind is eating. The neatly stacked shelves and colourful displays of Nishiki Market‘s 126 shops and stalls are far too intriguing to inspire hunger. Curious, I peer into each vat and crevice, trying to identify each mysterious morsel.

A few other camera-clutching foreigners are also wandering the 390-metre strip under the shelter of the checkered stained glass roof, but this is no tourist trap – this is a functioning market packed with fresh locally produced and procured goods, known by some as the “kitchen of Kyoto”.

Glittering fish and gnarled molluscs are carefully laid out on beds of crushed ice. Vast wooden barrels are filled with rice to one side and green tea to the other. Trays of crayon bright sweets add blasts of colour.

But less easy to identify are the yellow-smeared bulbs crammed in wooden crates, or the wood-like sticks stacked side by side.

Although its name literally means “brocade market”, Nishiki actually started off as a fish market, with the first store opening as early as 1311 and others soon springing up around it.

You can still find an incredible array of seafood here, but there are plenty of other items also on sale.

As I reach the end of the market, hunger finally makes an appearance. I’d love to fill my shopping bags with almost everything in sight, but I’ve got nowhere to cook it all and I certainly won’t be sneaking this lot past Australian customs.

Fortunately, there are several small restaurants close at hand, serving up dishes that are just as exciting as the raw ingredients.

If not more so, I think as I suck elusive noodles from steamy broth.

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