After the first month in Kyoto, a miscalculated budget forced me to cut back on my meal expenses and I found myself having to give up the luxury of school meals and supermarket bentos for cheaper home-cooked meals.
This turning point in my life opened my eyes to a perspective of food which I have often overlooked and taught me to truly appreciate the circumstances I am in. If I had not started cooking for myself, I would not have fully experienced the goodness of living in a city where I can get the ingredients for my meals fresh from the farms every day.
|One of the joys of cooking in Kyoto is being able to get fresh ingredients for my meals.|
In particular, Kyoto's traditional vegetables, or Kyo Yasai (京野菜) as they are known in Japanese, have a reputation for their rich colours and taste. Just as the masters of traditional arts strived to perfect their craft, the farmers of the old capital too worked hard to ensure the highest quality in their vegetables. Whether it was to delight the palate of the nobility or a response to the spread of Buddhism and vegetarian dishes in those days, the tradition of cultivating Kyo Yasai seemed to be as important a tradition to the farmers of the old capital as any other Kyoto tradition then. Today, even as Kyoto modernises along with the world, the tradition continues and Kyoto's vegetables and vegetarian cuisines are considered a must-try for visitors. Those with a discerning palate often found the vegetables refreshingly sweet.
|Vegetables from different parts of Japan are available in supermarkets in Kyoto but some supermarkets |
have a special section to promote Kyo Yasai of the season.
While Kyo Yasai could be slightly more expensive than vegetables from other parts of Japan, there are occasions when the supermarkets give discounts for seasonal vegetables. There is a variety of Kyo Yasai in season at different times of the year. In summer, eggplants cultivated in Kyoto are widely sold in the supermarkets. I have never had a craving for eggplants in my entire life but since I saw them in every supermarket I went to, I decided to try some. They were really sweet and delicious! I have to admit that I have become somewhat of a fan of this vegetable.
Apart from Kyo Yasai, Kyoto also has its own rice fields in some parts of the prefecture. When I took the local trains out from the city for my summer excursions, I passed many of these rice farms. The view of rolling green fields from the train windows was a picturesque sight. I couldn't possibly miss an opportunity to stroll through the fields. And that I did one summer day. When I eat my rice today, the image of that lone, elderly farmer toiling under the hot sun tending to his fields always comes to mind.
|Main picture shows rice fields in Yosano, a town in the Tango region, north of Kyoto prefecture. Top right picture shows a pack of rice produced in the central Tamba region of Kyoto prefecture, which I recently bought.|
Before coming to Kyoto, I hardly stepped into the kitchen to prepare my own meals. I ate whatever was conveniently available and finished my meals without as much as a thought as to the origin of the food on the table. But now, when I eat my meals, I taste the sweetness of the vegetables and the texture of the rice. And I feel grateful to the people who work closely with Nature to provide the food on my table.