There are two morning markets in Takayama, the Jinya-Mae Market near Takayama Jinya (a historic building, dating from the 17th century, that served as a regional government office during the Edo period) and the Miyagawa Market along the Miyagawa River. The latter runs North from the centre of the old town, in the direction of the Hachiman Shrine.
We visited Takayama for the Hachiman Autumn Festival so, as well as the normal morning market, there was a street food market extension. Happy day!
Miyagawa Market is arranged along a short stretch of road less than 350 metres in length, between Kaji-bashi and Yayoi-bashi (bridges). I hadn’t expected it would take us very long to meander through its entirety but there were so many fascinating stalls and shops selling fresh produce, pickles, traditional snacks and sweets and even traditional crafts, that we whiled away most of the morning here.
And then we moved seamlessly on to the street food market for the next hour!
Like most places in Japan, Takayama and the surrounding area have many products which are unique to the region, not least their style of pickles. We saw and tried a great many and failed to identify most, though there were a few more familiar ingredients such as red turnips and ginger and I think the first picture may be fiddlehead ferns.
One of the dishes we most enjoyed, in the expansive breakfast we were served each morning at Ryokan Tanabe, was hoba miso – miso with mushrooms and spring onions heated on a ho (magnolia) leaf set atop a shichirin (charcoal grill). We mixed it into our rice, and found it delicious. There were a number of shops and stalls selling different types of miso, ready-wrapped in leaves, pre-bagged or available to buy by weight.
In some of the kaiseki ryori multi-course meals we were served in various ryokan, one of the tiny components of the intricate starter plates was a small pale dense cube studded with dark-skinned circular fruit or vegetables. It didn’t taste of much, actually. One of our hosts told us it it was made from rice flour and had tiny baby potatoes in it. Knowledgeable web friends have suggested that it may have contained mukago, which are described as mountain yams, though these tiny potato-like bulbils grow on a bush and not underground. They’re definitely in season during October. However, it’s commonly made with black soy beans, in which case it’s known as mame mochi.
Genkotsu ame, which translates as fist candy, is another regional speciality and is a very popular sweet in the area, as was evident from the fact that we encountered three different vendors making and selling it along the short stretch of the morning market. Also known as genkotsu kikako, it is made by mixing kinako (soybean powder) with mizuame. Mizuame itself translates to water candy and is a starch-based liquid sweetener much like corn syrup. Once mixed, the dough is kneaded, dusted with roasted soybean powder, rolled into a thin sausage shape and chopped into bite-sized pieces.
Not only did it taste great, it was almost heart-stopping entertainment watching the knife skills of the men making them, as they cut the pieces so fast, their knives seemed to blur in front of my eyes!
Watch this video of one of the genkotsu ame makers to marvel at his knife skills.
There were many different types of fish sold pickled or preserved in different ways. Some were for taking home. Others were definitely street food.
Speaking of street snacks, I’ve already posted about owara tamaten but can’t resist sharing again this photo of the gentleman cooking the sweet marshmallow delicacies.
Shichimi or shichimi togarashi is a seven spice mix which can be readily found throughout Japan. Togarashi means chilli, which it commonly contains along with sichuan pepper, sesame seeds, ground ginger, orange peel, nori and a variety of other spices. This lady sold her own pre-mixed shichimi as well as a few individual spices and other mixes.
Senbei (rice cakes) were another popular snack. Most stalls had bags ready to go but you could also watch them grilling a fresh batch, if you passed by at the right time.
There were many varieties of sweets on sale, some boxed up to make pretty gifts but most in small packs ready to rip open and dig in. My favourites were ones featuring sesame seeds.
One stall sold a range of dried nuts, fruits and seeds.
Much of the market was given over to local produce. There were many familiar fruits, vegetables and mushrooms and a few unfamiliar ones too!
There were also a few craft shops including one which sold incense and hand-made candles. The candlemaker sat cross legged outside, in front of the shop. As he made the candles, he beckoned passers by closer and told us more about what he was doing. The wax was made from a local nut or berry and he applied it to the wicks by dipping one hand into a bowl of warm melted wax and using the other to roll three or four candles on sticks against the liquid wax.
Before we moved on, he gave us each a small gift containing one of his small, hand-made candles, and a sheet with more information, which I wish I could find!
I resisted these pretty doll cans containing green tea and genmaicha (green tea with roasted brown rice).
And lastly, some views of the river and houses on the other side.
With thanks to Akiko Tanabe at Ryokan Tanabe, Takayama for her kind help identifying genkotsu ame.