Text: Makiko Nagatomo / Photo: Kaina Honma
New Year has a special meaning to the Japanese people. Osechi-ryori is a traditional New Years cuisine with many different foods prepared in a 'jubako' (multi-layered lacquer boxes). However, not all the food prepared inside a jubako-dish is osechi-ryori.
New Years food sounds deluxe, and in fact they are in many regions, but in Kyoto, it is rather modest. The basic bowl of white-miso soup ozoni (mochi-rich cake soup) is complemented with what is called the 'iwai zakana san-shu (three celebrative food)'; kazunoko (herring eggs that has many small eggs. People eat this wishing for lots of offsprings), tataki-gobo (burdock root with sesame dressing, representing energy because it is rooted so firmly in the earth) and gomame (small dried sardines cooked in sugar and soy sauce. It is also called tazukuri (making a rice field) representing a hope for an abundant harvest for the new year. Gomame is used since little fish such as sardines and anchovies are used as fertilizer for a rice paddy). Among others are sweet black beans, dried cod called bodara and taro potato.
I will introduce the New Year's cuisine that can be found at Nishiki Market, so called Kyoto's kitchen.
Nishiki Market is a 400 years old market, the oldest in Kyoto. It is packed with people seeking for food for the New Year's holiday. Why? Because they have about everything that is needed to prepare osechi! Local people called this market 'Nishiki'.
Nishiki is also known as the birthplace of a famous artist Jakuchu Ito. They have many events related to him.
There are 126 shops in 390 meter long market. It starts from Teramachi Dori street at the east and towards Takakura Dori street in the west. Let me begin from Takakura side.
My first stop is Kanematsu, a traditional local vegetable shop that has been open from the Meiji period (1868-1912).
I found huge Horikawa Gobo, burdock, for tataki gobo. I was amazed by its shape, too! This is what I call a true Kyoto vege form!
The history of Horikawa Gobo goes back around 400 years, and were also found from the remains of Jurakudai, a lavish palace constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1586. There is no original species that is designated as Horikawa, it is rather the method that makes one such big burdock. Many of the Kyoto vegetables are made to be huge in size and unique in shape.
The tip of this burdock will be used for tataki gobo, and the middle part which is hollow will be stuffed with chicken/duck and become 'ikomi' dish that can be enjoyed during the New Year's holiday season.
Red kintoki-ninjin is a carrot that cannot be missed from osechi. Taste rich as it can be imagined from the color. Ebi-imo potato is also cooked during celebrations.
Next is Nishiki Hirano, a deli shop. I came to look for a dish using bodara, dried cod. A dish cooked with ebi-imo potato is common in Kyoto. This Hokkaido produces bodara takes time to cook, but in the old days when fresh fish was hard to get in Kyoto, it was one of the valuable seafoods. Hence, it is a special food enjoyed for celebrations such as New Year's and wedding.
Kuromame, sweet black beans, is enjoyed with an idea of 'mame mame shiku hataraku (to be able to work hard). A big Tanba produced beans are popular here. They are very expensive but the freshly harvested beans cooked for New Years are shimmering, soft and tasty!
Yamamoto Baba is a river fish shop located at the center of the market. Konbu-jime, fish sandwiched between sheets of kelp, sweetly cooked moroko (gudgeon fish) tsukudani, and many food that fits into jubako box can be found here. Besides river fish, they also sell ducks with prior reservation which seems to get sold out very quickly.
My last stop this day is Nishiki Mochitsuki ya, a rice cake shop. A great place where people can actually have white miso zoni soup. Some regions in Japan puts in a grilled mochi, but in Kyoto, they are not. Instead mochi cake is boiled in the soup.
Some people prefers simple zoni with just a taro potato, or with kintoki ninjin carrot and daikon. In any cases, Kyoto people like the sweet white miso.
Washoku, Japanese cuisine has now become a world heritage. It is not only the elegant Kyoto food, but also the traditional culture that has been highly appraised such as these New Year's osechi-ryori.