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Omicho Market Supports Kanazawa Cuisine

One of the places that tourists to Kanazawa usually visit is Omicho Market. It is very popular and is always mentioned in guidebooks.

I also went to Omicho Market some time ago and found a throng of people there, who were easily identifiable as tourists. It was the height of the snow crab season, so everywhere you looked there were fish shops, overflowing with crabs, as if the place was screaming, "Crabs! Crabs! Crabs!" For a while I was in awe of the sheer number of people gathered in one place. It's fun to walk around, looking at a market. There is so much activity, and looking at it brimming with fish, vegetables and fruit, one gets the impression that the market itself is a living organism, although this is probably an exaggeration.

Perhaps it is because I am a chef that I like looking at markets so much. I often look at markets when I am travelling on business, as one can get an idea of what the local diet is like from the local market. As for Omicho Market, it gives me the impression that the local diet must be very good.

The first reason I get this impression is that there is such a wide variety of ingredients offered. Seasonal seafood and vegetables lie crammed into the market stalls. This means that there must be a local demand for all these ingredients, which indicates that the local diet must be very good. The second reason is the freshness of the ingredients. Both fish and vegetables are extremely fresh. The yellowtail and cod are so fresh that you wonder if they are still alive. The lotus root even has soil still stuck to it, and the turnips, daikon radishes and so on all look delectable. Since the range and freshness of the ingredients are so good, it follows that the local cuisine is also bound to be good. I think Kanazawa is very fortunate when it comes to food.

By the way, this is a slight digression, but let's take a look at the origins of the market.

In the third century, it was customary for people to gather in a particular place to worship the gods. People would use these occasions as an opportunity to bring along produce they had grown themselves and trade it for other goods. For example, in ancient Yamato there was a particular place where some giant camellia trees (tsubaki) were the focus of god worship. A market was established at this site and named Tsubaki Market.

People lived a mainly self-sufficient lifestyle then, with the bartering system providing them with the goods that they could not produce themselves. For example, one could trade fish for rice or rice for salt. In those days, shopping was not a matter of choosing among various goods for oneself. Rather, individuals would create a market by gathering together, each bringing along his or her own goods. Gradually, people began trading more as "buyers" or "sellers", the variety of goods increased and markets became more lively and prosperous. These days, the remains of this can be seen in the Wajima morning and evening markets and the Takayama morning market. The barter of goods, such as rice in agricultural villages and salted dried fish in coastal towns, has actually gone on between individuals right up until recent years.

At a market place, people worshipped the god of the market, and for this people gathered together and traded goods. Thus the modern day market was derived. Omicho Market also developed in this way.

Omicho Market may have been named after the town of Omi. Right next to the market is the Ichihime Shrine. This shrine was originally the Ichihime Shrine on Gojo Street in Kyoto. It appears that the people who moved it to Kanazawa were merchants from Omi, which may have been the reason that the market was named Omicho. However, we are not certain of the true origins of its name. This is just one of many possible explanations. 

I have gone on a lot about Omicho Market. But just on one last point, I would like to tell you what I heard in a taxi, while travelling from Kanazawa station to the market. The taxi driver said to me, "Mister, make sure you bargain with them when you shop at the market." Apparently, because there are so many tourists, the vendors put high prices on their goods. "Even this market, Kanazawa's kitchen, has become wise to the world," I was told, and I felt a pang of longing for the old days. I suppose that, among the local young people, large supermarkets have become more popular.


The Million Koku of Kaga and Rosanjin

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