Though I’ve visited so many great food bazaars in Japan, for my money, the centuries-old Nishiki market, located in the old imperial capital of Kyoto, is the country’s most picturesque. Within the six-block covered arcade, shopkeepers entice housewives in full kimono, local kaiseki chefs, and curious tourists with katsuobushi (dried bonito), freshly roasted green tea, and Kyoto-style confections. I, too, am tempted by everything here, but I have my favorites. On the outskirts of the market, I love to browse Ichihara Heibei Shōten (81/75/341-3831), a well-ordered boutique where thousands of chopsticks are organized by type of wood (cedar, bamboo, birch), use (eating, cooking), and style (seemingly infinite). And I’ve spent a small fortune on knives at Aritsugu (81/75/221-1091), a former samurai sword manufacturer that dates back to the 16th century. Their hand-hewn carbon-steel blades are suited to ultraspecific tasks such as cutting soba noodles or slicing tuna. When the thirst hits me, I drop by Tsunoki Sake (81/75/221-2441), where eighth-generation sake merchant Teruo Fujii facilitates collaborations between rice farmers and sake brewers that culminate in unique flavor profiles such as creamy apple with hints of malt. Then I join the line at Kon-Na Monja (81/75/255-3231) for airy soy milk donuts eaten fresh from the fryer. For a more substantial bite, my choice is Iyomata (81/75/221-1405), run by a 20th generation vendor, who transforms fresh fish from the market into platters of beautifully arranged sushi, sashimi, and other delicacies. Afterward, I linger over the eye candy at Kanematsu (81/75/221-0088), a shop that exhibits premium produce the way Neil Lane displays diamonds: Outrageously plump wasabi roots recline in a lavish running-water bath, while pricey white strawberries luxuriate in custom jewel boxes. After perusing the bottom floor of the Daimaru department store (81/75/211-8111), where the food emporium is packed with soy sauces, endless platters of vegetable tempura, and, best of all, an entire mushroom department, I end my visit at nearby Miki Keiran (81/75/221-1585). Their delectable rolled egg-and-dashi omelettes are made by chefs who theatrically toss them high in their pans in a show of true culinary theater.
Nishikikōji-dōri, between Teramachi & Takakura, Kyoto