kyoto’s toji temple market
Covering every inch of temple grounds and every lane and road radiating from it, the Toji Temple flea market was the find of our last Japan trip. Everything you could typically want to buy from Kyoto is here. There’s elaborate retired kimono, tie dyed shibori scraps, to fine calligraphy brushes, vintage cameras and sushi chef aprons. Technically a flea market, prices range both ways with quality reflected in what you pay. Household knives are a good buy here – there was even a salesman wowing crowds by chopping wood with his knives. (I guess some things transcend cultures.) Everything here is worth a look, but the pottery stalls with everything from cartoony bowls to perfectly formed chawan tea cups tickled my fancy (and wallet) the most.
By noon the market was packed with locals, most of them on a mission for food. (Forget Nishiki Market, if you’re in town on the 21st of the month, get yourself here.) The vendors manning the stalls were as interesting as the wares – old school and brisk, wearing a twisted cloth on their balding heads and barking out their goods. The best seasonal and traditional food is on display, with fragrant pine needles, steamy red bean sticky rice and a stall that was basically a box of the tiniest anchovies being mobbed by little old ladies. The pickle stalls were pungent yet beautiful, with a kaleidoscope of miso slathered cabbages, purple sour plums and pickled radishes. I tried some mentaiko (marinated cod roe) too, it’s an acquired taste being simultaneously salty and unusually for Japanese food, very spicy.
Even in the tiniest of alleys there would be something to snack on. Huge stalls dispensed grilled to order anchovies, fried chicken and noodles artfully wrapped in thin sheets of omelette. I ate the best chicken skin yakitori of the trip standing up behind the grill; a red bean and gingko nut taiyaki from a stall so busy it had a conveyor belt to transport the pastries from the griddle to the cashier; dolls head cakes puffed in ancient brass moulds and – my all time favourite – takoyaki! I joined a long, long queue and got myself five perfectly formed takoyaki which were mopped with sauce and dusted with seaweed. The best was yet to come though, with help-yourself condiments to top the takoyaki with: spring onions, pickled ginger, tempura fried bits, mayonnaise and bonito flake. It was heavenly with each dumpling’s crispy outside crust collapsing into a creamy batter and big chunks of octopus.
The UNESCO heritage site temple is open every day for viewing and is worth seeing – there are some beautiful halls and a pagoda to explore. Note that the markets are held on the 21st of every month. If it falls on a weekend, it gets extra crowded so make an effort to head there early.
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