Huge thanks again to Joan Bailey for sharing another Japanese farmers market with us, this time from Osaka. (The first was Tokyo). I absolutely love Joan’s narrative descriptions of the Japanese markets and all the unique offerings, it makes me hunger to do more traveling.
I also asked Joan for a brief update on the situation in Tokyo, where she lives. You can read more about the what is happening there at the bottom of her post.
Farmers Market Update: Odona Farmer’s Market in Osaka
by Joan Bailey
Our final fling in Osaka before returning to Tokyo was a trip to the Odona Farmer’s Market. I’d missed it on a visit to the city in early January, and since we’d self-evacuated there after the March 11th earthquake it seemed as good a time as any to do a bit of exploring. (Nothing like a farmer’s market to scare off the aftershock-radiation blues, I say.)
Japan’s third largest city, Osaka lies about 320 miles south of Tokyo. A charming city with slightly rougher edges than its sleek northern cousin (think Chicago versus New York), it offers the market-goer a veritable cornucopia of shopping locations year-round.
While not the largest in the city, the Odona Market was certainly one of the busiest I’ve seen in Osaka so far. Named for the posh department store whose front sidewalk it fills, market vendors benefit from being on a direct path to Yodoyabashi Station in a major business-shopping-touristy area. Even as we arrived shortly after the market opened a number of serious shoppers were already on the scene and one stall had already sold out of their supply of dried beans.
Bundled up against a brisk March wind that whipped along the high-rise lined street, shoppers and vendors alike surveyed a scene of fantastic winter bounty. Citrus, a wide assortment of winter greens and vegetables mingled with some early spring favorites like nanohana (a signature spring green) and strawberries, heaps of onions, beautiful brown eggs, white and brown rice, homemade mochi, miso, tsukemono (pickles), cakes, jam, tea, assorted mushrooms, and even bubbling styrofoam crates of fresh (a.k.a. living) seafood were on offer.
Throwing myself into the fray of bicycling housewives, cane-toting grandmothers bent at the waist, black-suited office workers, and young mothers towing uniformed school children, I started shopping.
Starting at the end farthest from the station, I first visited Narakiyorisa Farms from nearby Minami Awajishi. Like most vendors this afternoon, three people worked the stall. Two stood behind to answer questions and handle sales while a third stood out front welcoming customers, answering questions, and monitoring restocking needs. While their onions, broccoli, and nanohana tempted, it was the big bag of homemade mochi that had me sidling up for a closer look.
Mochi, made from pounded rice, can be eaten savory or sweet, grilled or plunked in a bowl of hot miso. Really, the possibilities are endless, and while the texture puts some folks off (a bit gooey and chewy) it is one of my favorite things ever. The varieties are nearly endless, as are the regional variations in flavor, shape and style, and I never pass up an opportunity to purchase it at market. In hindsight, I wish I’d also grabbed some of their dried onion soup. Made with their own onions and a selection of herbs and spices, it did sound like a perfect treat for a chilly spring evening. Instead, I snapped up a bag of their pickled daikon for our journey home. I know what I’ll buy next time!
Just down the line from Narakiyorisa I stopped at a table overflowing with vegetable goodness. Sourced from a number of area farms I was greeted by tight round heads of red cabbage, brilliant white daikon, celery stalks, and bright early strawberries; however, it was Kaizukashi Sobura’s shiitake mushrooms that stole the show. Raised on the outskirts of the city, my mouth watered at the site of those fat little fellows. Before I knew it they were in my bag as the perfect souvenir – light as well as tasty – to carry home.
Since Osaka hosts a number of markets (at least five that I know of) spread throughout the week at varying locations, it’s perhaps no surprise that I ran into two growers I met during my January roamings. Numa-san and her bottles of homemade yuzu, tomato, and orange juices were easy to spot. Last time I had purchased Shishiyuzu (a softball sized yuzu) for marmalade, and this time I gave serious thought to the large bags of yuzu seeds for sale. Showing me the sample jar of them soaking in alcohol (the rubbing, not drinking variety), she recommended the mixture as a refreshing and cleansing spray for face or hands. (A single yuzu holds a huge number of seeds, so discovering a use for all of them would take some of the tedium out of the marmalade process.) I opted instead for her homemade daifuku mochi. After tasting a sample of her komugi (mugwort) mochi with perfectly sweetened anko (sweet adzuki bean paste) centers, I was helpless.
Koroku and Nakama Farms split their time between a Saturday market on one of the river walks and the Odona Market. Located in Izumi and Nara (one of Japan’s ancient capital cities and home to some of the most spectacular architecture in the country) respectively, the real attraction of their stall are their heirloom vegetables. (Heirlooms can be hard to find in Japan, even at farmer’s markets. Like the US, most people only know one kind of tomato, soy bean, or squash, despite a long and deep tradition of regional varieties.)
Two kinds of renkon (lotus root), some of the first sansai (mountain vegetables) I’d seen this year, joined a mix of greens. Sensuji, a hardier looking version of mizuna that resembles kale a bit in texture and taste, and Yamatomanna, an older and mixed version of nanohana (rape), had me striking up a conversation in my bad Japanese in short order. Both can be quickly steamed and tossed with soy sauce and sugar like shingiku or thrown in traditional winter dishes like nabe (a dream of a boiled dinner) for a bit of green crunch in a season when it is most desired.
Remembering that we were traveling that evening, I chose instead a bag of hasaku or, as the farmer called them, Japanese grapefruit. Sour with a spark of sweetness, they nearly glowed in their newspaper lined crate at the front of the stall, and they looked like a cheerful gift to bring back to somewhat stressful Tokyo.* It would travel well, and the season for citrus will begin to come to a close shortly. It seemed only prudent to make the most of the opportunity.
As the sun began setting and lights flickered on at the stalls, I stopped at Yamato-Shokuhin’s stall to sample their sakezuke. Pieces of eggplant, cucumber, ginger, and daikon are set in sake lees (the dregs of the sake making process) for a period of time, which preserves and flavor them. It’s a fermentation/pickling process similar to what we do with sauerkraut or even quick refrigerator pickles. Usually served in tiny bowls amongst a myriad of other tiny bowls full of delightful and surprising flavors, sakezuke is just one part of a pickle tradition that varies from region to region, town to town. This little flavor of Osaka would come to Tokyo, but this time just for us.
What I bought:
- Daifuku Mochi from Numa-san
- Hasaku from Kiroku Farm
- Regular mochi and pickled daikon from Narakiyoisa Farm
- Shiitake mushrooms from Kaizukashi Sobura
- Ginger and cucumber sakezuke from Yamato-Shokuhin
We’ve since returned to a calmer Tokyo. The aftershocks are gradually lessening, although up north in the Tohoku region where the damage is worst, they continue. Our concerns about radiation and earthquakes, while valid, seem tiny in comparison to what is happening there. Supplies to the evacuation shelters continue to be a challenge, although organizations like Second Harvest work to meet it and care for survivors. And while there are also valid worries about radiation contaminated vegetables from Ibaraki, Fukushima, and Chiba prefectures, it perhaps pays more to worry about the farmers themselves. The majority of them are small growers who willingly destroyed valuable spring crops to protect themselves and those they feed. Now, more than ever, it pays – for the farmer as well as the consumer – to buy vegetables from local growers at small stands or at farmer’s markets.