Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Morning Markets: Takayama

This week, the dark lords of employment saw fit to give me a four-day weekend. So Peter and I, who have been planning a trip to Takayama, in the corners of our minds not preoccupied with other things, for a while now. Takayama is a small town in the central alps of Japan, about two hours outside of Nagoya. We took the Shinkansen down to Nagoya, and then a local train for another two hours or so into the mountains to reach this gem of a town. It's famous for a festival that's held there every spring and fall, where floats sponsored by various merchants are borne around the traditional streets of the town. Not since Kyoto have I seen such a collection of small, traditional Japanese streetscapes, and even despite the bus loads of tourists streaming through, the beauty of the place shone through. It's also famous for Hida beef, fabulously marbled beef grilled and served up in a variety of preparations at restaurants around town.

I have a full report on all the beef we ate there over on eGullet, but I wanted to talk about the gorgeous produce I saw in the morning markets. I go on a lot about the produce we pick up cheaply at Ofuna market, but what I get there is nothing on the gorgeous fruits, vegetables, and flowers I saw here in the mountains.

There are two morning markets: one in front of the jinya, a government building in the centre of town left over from the Edo period, and one along the banks of the river that flows through town.

The river market is larger, and features not only beautiful flowers and and handcrafts, but also spices, vegetables, fruit, delicious coffee, sweets, and grilled beef served with local microbrews. For breakfast? Why not?

Dango are another local specialty - balls of sticky rice, called mochi, are skewered, dipped in soy sauce, and then grilled for a chewy snack. The smell of rice grilling in this manner is an essential smell of Japan.

I couldn't resist picking up some beautiful little pickling eggplants (aubergines, dammit, I'm trying to retrain myself to say aubergines. aubergines. aubergines. Why do the British use a French word? Why?) no bigger than my thumb, and the vendor also had long ones, round ones, candy striped ones, and white ones, much to the amazement of the crowd. I never see diversity like that around town. Somebody call Slow Food! We need a chapter in Kanto!

I digress.

I got them home and decided they were too small to turn into grilled eggplant (aubergine) with miso (did I mention I bought a couple of bags of miso as well? From a soybean specialist? And some small-batch soy sauce? I'll admit it. I'm such a yuppie. I can hear my parents laughing at me from here.), so they're turning into Italian pickled eggplants (aubergine) from another project I'm working on.

There were also purple striped green beans, and I cannot resist a good green bean, quite frankly, so I bought a bag after sampling some of the vendor's home simmered beans, which she produced triumphantly from under the table when I expressed interest. She also had some gorgeous myoga and unwaxed cucumbers, but I resisted. I will be turning the green beans into Maki's fabulous ginger green beans, which keep great in the fridge for bentos.

There were all sorts of gorgeous flowers.

And beautiful fruit, which you could order by the boxful and have delivered to your home via Black Cat Delivery. Peter selected a nice pear for himself, and I chose an apple. At 100 yen each, that's all we could afford. The smell of cool air and apples made me think of home, and how much I love fall. Peter couldn't resist a bottle of fresh apple juice either, which had us thinking of fresh apple cider from Annapolis valley.

I bought some shichimi togarashi, which is a mix of seven spices, including chilis and sesame seeds, that the Japanese use to dip tempura into, or to sprinkle on ramen. It was so strange to see a spice vendor in Japan - I tend to associate spice mixes with South East Asian foods, and so the lady with her piles of dried spices and large mortar and pestle stopped me in my tracks.

Even this pigeon was curious.

My favourite thing to get in Japanese market is always tsukemono - pickled things. In Takayama, they specialize in pickled red radish/turnips. I struggled to understand the dialect of the granny that sold them to me, but she insisted I take a bag each of sweet and salty - and I wasn't going to argue for 500 yen for both bags. Tsukemono don't come cheap in Kanagawa ken.

Stay tuned to see what I make from everything.


Canadian Bento said...

Awesome. We rocked the farmers market in Ottawa this weekend. Not nearly as exciting, but the artisan heritage breed pork bacon was pretty amazing. Can't wait to see what all that turns into...

nakji said...

Mmmm, bacon. It's really good fried with green beans, then tossed in a vinaigrette.