THE BLOG

Shopping in Kyoto's Kitchen

11/15/2010 09:04 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This is the third installment of my No Baggage Challenge for Charity. Read about why I am traveling to Japan for ten days with no bags here and see exactly what I have with me here. My first post on arriving in Japan can be read here. . Nishiki Market is a food and vegetable clearinghouse in central Kyoto. The market is known as Kyoto's Kitchen and many of the stands within it have been managed by the same families for generations. There aren't many foods which you can't find in Nishiki Market - fish of every variety and in every state, from fresh to frozen to salted, cured, seasoned, fried, and dehydrated. Butchers, egg stands, roasted chestnuts, dozens of different types of sweets, exorbitantly priced fresh fruits and color vegetable stands fill the market, which runs on block after block. Though the market opens early in the morning, my first visit to Nishiki was at one of the notoriously worst times to go: late afternoon, when the market is packed with house wives doing their evening shop. Moving through a sea of people made it only more challenging to take in the huge range of sights and smells emanating from each food stand. When I returned this morning, the crowd was much more sparse, making it easier to navigate, as well as loiter in front of some of the more visually interesting stands (though more time was not enough of an impetus to make me want to try the cured baby octopus whose head had been stuffed with a quail egg). Twice I've been given knives from the Aritsugu store in Nishiki Market. Their incredibly high-quality, handmade blades are among the finest in the world. Though the store isn't particularly big, they have hundreds of different types of knives. With Japanese style cutlery, every different shape and size has a specific purpose, from sashimi to vegetables to poultry or eel. The number of options are overwhelming to a very low-key Western cook like myself. I ended up getting a beautiful, carbon steel chefs knife. One of the coolest things about Aritsugu is that they will add a custom engraving to any knife you buy. A skilled craftsman notches the knife onto a small wooden stump and then proceeds to use a hammer and small chisel to add Japanese characters to the blade or hilt of the knife. It's a remarkable touch and a final display of their workmanship before the knife heads home for use. Buying things while traveling with no bags presents an interesting challenge. It's compounded by the fact that knives definitely cannot be carried onto an airplane. I was already out and about for the day when I purchased the knife this morning. Today I carried the knife in the front right pocket of my