Tuesday, June 21, 2016

50 Hours in Tokyo: Aoyama's Farmers Market

Going to the farmers market gotta be one of my favorite things to do whilst visiting a city. To me that's my way of "feeling the vibe" of local culture or catching a glimpse of people's daily lives by observing what they shop for food.

I have been following this weekend farmers market in downtown Tokyo for some time on Facebook and I am glad I could finally visit in person on Sunday morning on a gorgeous day. There are a number of similar pop-up markets around Tokyo but I think this one at the campus of United Nations University (UNU) near Aoyama is the largest of its kind and the most convenient to get to, right in between Shibuya and Omotesando metro stations.

The market opens every Saturday and Sunday, each time with a slightly different line-up of vendors, the list of which would be posted online beforehand. There were a couple dozens of stalls set up under the canopy, most of them farms from the nearby Kanagawa or Chiba prefectures, but there were also stalls selling products from places further away, like one selling fresh pineapple from Okinawa, or tomatoes from Kumamoto, or citrus fruits from Ehime. Two-third of the stalls were for fresh, seasonal produce, and the remaining, packaged food (honey, oil and dressing, pickles, spices), zakka/household goods or flower stalls.

But what amazed me most were the food trucks - there were more than 10 of them in dedicated area, some operated on a trailer truck, or some just a cute small VW van, selling everything from juices and smoothies, curry rice, to craft beer and burgers. I was most impressed with one equipped with an open-fire brick oven baking pizza, or one doing smoked meat inside the van and sell pulled pork or brisket sandwiches. This is the real deal, hard-core cooking in a limited but mobile space, compared to what we were having or planning to have back in Hong Kong.

I spent a couple hours at the market, walking and checking out each of the stalls, shopping for a few stuff, and chilling at the table enjoying a sandwich and a mojito made from the food trucks (with the bit of leftover pie from my breakfast) I wish I could bring more back home to cook, but at the end, I only managed to "smuggle" back some oil, dried mushrooms and fresh spring bamboo shoot (best I have ever tasted, by the way). They were the perfect seasonal ingredients that went into my bento box the next week when I reached home and had a chance to cook.

I would say it's fun looking at the seasonal produce on sale at each of the stalls, but I also came to the realization that one we had at home, like Tong Chong Street Market running on Sundays in my neighborhood, wasn't that far behind by any means, if you look at the variety of food on sale (raw or cooked) and the line-up of vendors every week. It just showed how far we have gone, from almost nothing to what we have right now, a vibrant market scene with a supportive community more aware of where their food came from and willing to embrace the local food culture. But okay, next issue to tackle, let's bring in some REAL food trucks.

Check out the rest of the travelogue series: 50 Hours in Tokyo!

Where? Farmers Market @ UNU, United Nations University, 5-53-70 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
国連大学前 東京都渋谷区神宮前5-53-70
Web: http://farmersmarkets.jp/

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