The best part of walking through a farmers’ market in the fall is viewing the mountains of colorful produce piled at each stand, awaiting selection and an oven in which later they’ll be roasting.
Or maybe it’s the smell of cider donuts: brown and round fried pastries that smell a bit like apples but mostly taste like crisp brown sugar.
Or maybe it’s the fresh samples of apples or cheese or honey or bread, or whatever the farmers plug as their featured product, that I can pop into my mouth and that make my canvas bag swell with purchases.
These are the memories I have of urban and rural farmers’ markets in the northeastern United States, such as the Union Square Greenmarket held weekly in New York City, or at the many farms up and down the east coast that open their gates to visitors in autumn. It was at the urging of these memories, and a hungry tummy, that I was pleased to find in Tokyo an abundance of fresh-from-the-farm produce at different types of markets both downtown and around town.
Tokyo Farmers’ Markets: Big, small, or tucked-away
One type of market is what I think of as a traditional farmers’ market, held on a blocked-off street or in a park, with open-air stalls set up by farmers who directly sell their own products. There are a number of these markets on weekends in downtown Tokyo (you’ll find the list at the end of the article). The biggest and most popular is the Farmers’ Market @UNU, held every weekend.
But with only a small selection of open-air markets in Tokyo, to regularly enjoy seasonal produce I had to look a bit harder.
Another type of market where consumers can buy directly from the farmers are direct sales markets, for example, the Akigawa Farmers’ Center in Akiruno City in western Tokyo. Farmers bring their produce in the morning and it is sold at the center throughout the day, which is open almost every day.
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It doesn’t have the same feeling as a weekend open-air market — it’s more like a large vegetable stand — but the tastiness of the fresh produce is the same, and the convenience is nice.
If you happen to live near a Joyful Honda, also check out their Joy Marche market in the store’s garden section, which has agricultural product direct sales as well as sales of locally produced products such as pastries or bread.
A list of stores with garden centers is on their website — in Japanese only, but English translation works. The direct agricultural sales are buried within such a huge store! But they are a gem to find.
What to buy at Tokyo Farmers’ Markets
But what to look for at Tokyo farmers’ markets? I didn’t expect to find cider donuts, but instead, I found many unrecognizable Japanese vegetables, and I was unsure how to translate them into my kitchen. So I sought some advice from Tokyo farmers and chefs about what to buy at Tokyo farmers’ markets in the fall.
Here is my best list, with tips. To compile it, I spoke to Hannah Smith, a cooking teacher and former chef with Tadaku in Tokyo, Cameron and Atsue Durrant of Base Side Farm in Mizuho who sell their produce, much of it produced without chemical pesticide, at a variety of markets, and Futoshi Ota and Hideyuki Ikeura of Ome Farm in a far western region of Tokyo, whose entire production does not contain any pesticides or chemical produce.
Persimmons (kaki): To find a ripe persimmon, look for a bright orange color and the feel of a ripe avocado: it gives a bit to pressure when pushed. The inside flesh is juicy and sweet. The skin can be eaten or peeled with a vegetable peeler.
Root vegetables such as turnips, radishes, carrots, and ginger — Look for their variety this season, such as the Shinagawa radish, which is shaped and colored like a white daikon radish but is about the size of a large carrot, or look for yellow carrots in addition to the usual orange.
© Photo by Ome Farm
Mixed greens — Ome Farm, at the Farmers’ Market @UNU on Saturdays, sells a bag of mixed greens, often containing komatsuna (a Japanese spinach), Chinese greens, wasabi leaves, or rocket, a small-leaf green with a peppery bite. If you’re not at UNU, purchase a variety of greens for the same effect. Also find varieties of kale and shungiku, edible chrysanthemum leaves, this season.
Butternut squash — This is an American vegetable but I have seen it sold in Tokyo farmers’ markets, and when I bought it, it produced the sweetest butternut squash soup I’ve ever made in my kitchen. Snatch it up if you find it.
© Photo by Farmer's Market at UNU
Kabocha squash — Also called a Japanese pumpkin, this vegetable looks like a green pumpkin, and inside it’s bright orange. Use it in any savory recipe requiring pumpkin or squash.
© Photo by Farmer's Market at UNU
Honey — Though honey can be harvested in summertime, farmers sell a variety of raw honey this season that goes well with autumn recipes.
Sweet potatoes and yakiimo — the annou imo sweet potato (安納芋 or あんのういも) is an especially sweet variety of potato, and roasts nicely at home. Alternately, yakiimo is a sweet potato that is already roasted for you and ready-to-eat. Look for street vendors selling them at open-air markets and inside the Joy Marche market, as well as in many Japanese grocery stores.
It’s in the final pick, yakiimo, that I found a great joy. No, I wasn’t going to find northeastern cider donuts in western Tokyo. But I’d say yakiimo are to Japanese markets what cider donuts are to American ones. It’s hot and fresh, it’s a treat you can pick up and eat right away with your hands, and it has a delish, seasonal smell. In later years I may walk through northeast America’s farmers’ markets again, smell a cider donut, and yearn for the smell of yakiimo instead.
Tokyo Farmers’ Markets for Fall Produce
© Photo by Earth Day Market
Here is where to go if you’re looking for some fresh produce this fall.
When: Every Sat and Sun, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: 3-3-11 Midori Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
When: Every Sun, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Ebisu Garden Place “Chateau Square,” 1-13-1 Mita, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
When: Second Sat and Sun every month
Where: Tsukishima 2nd Children’s Park, 1-9-8 Kachidoki, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
When: Second and fourth Sat of the month, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: 1-1-2 Komazawa Olympic Park, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
When: Third Sun of the month in Apr., May, June, Sep., Oct., and Nov.
Where: 4-5-13 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
When: Held irregularly; see website for next date
Where: Inside Yoyogi Park, 2-2-1 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
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