Listening In

Sunday, October 15, 2006

To market, to market, to be a fat pig...


3rd October 2006


Only thing is, it'll take four weeks for my alien registration to be processed and until I get the card, all significant transactions are impossible. Can't buy a mobile phone, can't open an account at Citibank even though I already have two at the bank's Singapore arm.

But I can, at least, go to the market. Not any market either; Lonely Planet calls Nishiki `Kyoto's best full-time market'. Once there, let your eyes be a second mouth and feast on food pulled out of the earth, from plants, from the water, from the depths of the Japanese culinary imagination. Like the soyabean doughnuts. These were chopped up for passers-by and looked like nothing so much as pieces of yew char kway (fried dough sticks to people unfamiliar with Singapore grease sources).

What can I say? That first you notice the crunch, then the sweetness and then the burst of oil? That the way all these wait patiently for each other to shine makes you think, probably inappropriately, of the Japanese ideal of harmony?

All I know is that if I'd been given beancurd in that form as a child, I'd have been a lot more enthusiastic about eating it.

The market is a freeloader's dream, with samples every few steps. Admittedly, a lot of what is on offer looks like pickled vegetables. Not being of the pickle persuasion, I kept an eye out for shops selling wagashi, or traditional Japanese sweets.

Dango (glutinous rice balls, often stuck in threes on a stick) occupies the place in Japan filled by chocolate in other countries. Also not being a fan of food that needs more than the usual amount of chewing, I bought just one stick of kinako (soyabean powder; tastes a bit like peanut) dango.

I pulled one ball off the stick. I chewed. I swallowed. I went back to the shop to buy two more sticks and other things in the display case.

This was what I had come to Kyoto to find: food that makes you think, `Bloody hell, what did I just put in my mouth?' Usually, that thought is followed by, `Will anyone notice if I spit it out?' In Japan, however, that second thought is more likely to be, `!!! How can I lay in a lifetime's supply of this stuff?'

It had become one of my minor ambitions to eat my way across Kyoto - not something I tell serious people asking me serious questions about my reasons for moving to Japan, if only because it makes me sound like a termite.

2 comments:

Askinstoo said...
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I-Chun said...

Haha... Food features highly in my Kyoto itinerary too. Can't get enough of Kyoto's tofu, yuba, shojin ryori, handmade soba and mochi!