Originally established in the Mid-Taisho period as a temple in 1902, deemed Enmei-ji Ichiba, Kuromon Ichiba Market came to be when the temple was destroyed by a fire in 1912. “Kuromon” (which means “Black Gate” in Japanese) refers to the large black gates that used to serve as the entryway to the temple. What originally began as a simple fish market has evolved into a tremendous open-air marketplace brimming with colourful sights, smells, and tastes. Over 600 meters long, the market consists of 180 fish, produce, flower, dessert, restaurant, and dry goods stalls. However, seafood seems to be the standout attraction of the market, as nearly half of the stalls focus on fresh seafood.
Go With the Flow of the City
Like most markets, Kuromon Ichiba Market is a central part of the community – here, you will see chefs picking out their ingredients for the day, locals exchanging niceties with their usual shopkeeper, and Japanese grandmas steadily pushing ahead a cart filled with dinner ingredients. It’s a marketplace for the people and by the people. The influential undercurrent of food in the community is palpable. It is obvious that the fare is fresh and locally sourced, despite being in the centre of Osaka. The produce is healthy and bright, the fish scales glimmer, and deserts are cooked on a daily basis. When it comes to food, the Japanese standard of quality is exceptionally high, and the market is no exception. The layout of the market even synchs to the flow of the crowd – the south end of the market concentrates on wholesale fish and raw ingredients for restaurant owners, meaning that this end of the market has usually reached its peak of business and is ready to close up shop by early afternoon. Closer to Nippombashi station, the stalls are teeming with freshly prepared and boxed foods for the workers on their way home for the evening and is bustling with businessmen and tourists alike in the afternoon and into the evening hours.
Come on an Empty Stomach for a Fulfilling Experience!
It’s best to come on an empty stomach and an open mind. You’ll find yourself taste testing and sampling courses as you make your way throughout the market. The stalls offer a beautiful arrangement of seafood and produce, most of which are unique to the Kansai region. The typical fare of the seafood stalls are oysters, sea urchins, octopus, tuna, scallops, and of course puffer fish (fugu in Japanese). Usual street food sweets such as warabi mochi (soft gelatinous sweet sprinkled in roasted soybean powder), taiyaki (fish shaped cake filled with azuki bean paste), dorayaki (castella pancake sandwich filled with azuki bean paste), dango (sweet rice flour balls served on a skewer), among many others, are also all available to eat on the go. Specialty dessert shops, dry foodstuffs, and teashops make up the majority of the other shops. There are even a few “Western” style markets within the market, which stand out among the delightful chaos of the market with their division of aisles, shelves stocked with packaged foods, and checkout stands. In more recent times, vendors have come to offer food that is available to eat on the spot or fish that is freshly cut and immediately packaged.
Eating On the Spot
Being so close to the Osaka Central Fish Market, it makes perfect sense as to why Kuromon Ichiba is comprised of nearly 50% fish vendors. Freshly shucked oysters and sea urchins are some of the most popular choices of seafood to be eaten on the spot. Vendors often reserve a small corner for you in their stall to enjoy your seafood on the spot. Oysters and sea urchins are separated by size, so there are options to fit any budget and appetite. With a simple garnish of soy sauce, lemon juice, and wasabi, these oysters aren’t for the haphazard or casual oyster consumer – these oysters are for the hard-core oyster fanatics. Suffice to say, Japanese summer oysters are usually much larger than the ones derived from the West. You might be surprised to take a good 3 mouthfuls and 5 minutes to finish a single oyster!
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Eating on the Go –The Convenient Choice
If raw shellfish and sashimi isn’t your thing, much of the fresh seafood that you see displayed in the stalls is available to be eaten raw, or vendors will quickly grill it on the spot. The typical choices are prawns, scallops, crab legs, squid, octopus legs, and oysters. Skewered and grilled on a stick, these are the perfect portable snack to walk around with while you’re deciding on your next bite.
The gratifying condition of sensory overload
Kuromon Ichiba is a concentrated area that merges two essential elements of Japan – food and shopping. There are so many colors, sights, and smells to take in at once that you might find yourself unsure of where to focus. Everything is worthy of a try and it doesn’t hurt to walk down the same path multiple times.
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