To Market, To Market

By Sarah Cangley

“Big balls, big balls!” cries a little girl, walking past with coconut-covered sweets at The Melville Market, atop the Bamboo Centre. The market is festooned with bright ‘raggle-taggle, gypsy-o’ umbrellas, and all the best stuff sells out early. There are chocolate brownies “to beat the recession”. 

Loads of fresh veggies. Gluten-free homely loaves. Roasted coffee beans from 44 Stanley Avenue. And homemade basil pesto with plenty of plastic spoons to taste with. The place is packed with fathers who have obviously been told to take the children out early so mum can join them at the Service Station for a late breakfast. 

The market phenomenon with its appealing homemade goodies, which started off in Cape Town, has hit Joburg hard. 
Marketplace shopping ties in with the worldwide trend towards organic and natural. Whether you want to start off your weekend with a Belgian waffle, a great cup of coffee, a bagel or gluten-free rye bread, fresh eggs, organic smoked salmon, seasonal fruit and veggies—or you just need to stock up the larder and fridge with a range of great homemade condiments, pasta, spices and cheese—a local market is only half an hour’s drive away.Joburg’s tendency towards parallel universes—from Mayfair to the Magaliesberg—sees local markets carrying a variety of regional produce that reflects the community that supports them.

Some of the best olives on the planet are made by Martin Nickless, who takes his olives, dukkah, herbal teas and chutneys to the Melville Market once a month (as well as to the Masada Market in Pretoria on the second and last Sunday of every month). His melt-in-the-mouth olives—marketed appropriately under the label ‘Mm’—are made using a process Martin discovered about five years ago. As the process is labour intensive, he has to wait a few months for the olives to settle into a palatable condition. Last year he produced more than 120kg of olives and thought: “This year I am going to have to market them.” Martyn’s mango chutney is also great, especially with cheese sarmies. “I use our fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables, so this year I am looking at making plum chutney.” He is also thinking of reviving pickled onions, which disappeared in recent years from the national diet.
The Blubird Organic Market off Corlett Drive is a huge success story, and Constitutional Court judges, politicos and foodies alike pull in every Sunday to fill up their baskets. This market idea came from entrepreneur Robyn Higgins, who came back last year from the UK. There she saw a Frenchman setting up a stall every Saturday on a piece of land near the King’s Road, which featured cheeses, bread and plaited strings of onions and garlic. She thought to herself: “Why don’t we have something like this in Joburg?” Robyn cajoles and encourages all her stallholders, whom she handpicks for being “true marketers” who make everything by hand. There is food—even kosher and halal—as well as plants, organic detergents and earthworm bins to break down kitchen waste.

Belgian waffle expert Deborah Neuman doesn’t sleep much before market day at Blubird. “Concealer is my best friend,” says this balletic nursery school teacher. During the week, she deals with 14 kids “who behave like they have had 60 ecstasy pills after a nap”, then puts on her apron after work from Friday until Sunday. 

Deborah is passionate about waffles. She attempts to wean her customers off American waffles drowned in syrup and cream. Her products have all the flavour already locked in. At her stand are waffles with coarse white sugar melted into the batter, as well as cranberry and vanilla, currant and cinnamon and Belgian choc chip waffles studded with dark nuggets. Deborah uses fresh yeast, good quality local organic butter, flour from Wensleydale Farm, and not too much sugar. “A waffle is something you can eat instead of a muffin, pancake or croissant—it’s the same group of food. You can eat it hot or cold, although the dough softens slightly when heated.” She kneads her dough, then rolls it into portions and pops it into a special waffle iron. “My chocolate mousse is also amazing. I make it with good quality Belgian chocolate, no butter or cream.” If that doesn’t get you salivating, she also has cocoa-dusted marzipan balls and the caramelised fruit muffins, packed with strawberries or blueberries which produce a violet stain on their greaseproof paper, crack when you bite into them. “I love to see people smile after they’ve put a piece of my chocolate cake in their mouth,” she says. 

Market philosophy is about smiling, on the part of both the buyer and the seller. It’s about educating the taste buds and tasting everything to decide what you want to buy—try doing that in a supermarket. There’s great interaction with other people, plus the bonus of being glowingly healthy. Not only that, everything looks good and the stallholders support each other.

Someone who creates the biggest buzz is Dave Moss, whose Elbows Up Deli stand is at the Jozi Food Market every Saturday morning (he also sells at the Masada Market). The market, in the corner of the parking lot of the Parktown Quarter, has rides on Shetland ponies and baby goats from a Magaliesberg farm for the children to pet. There is a sophisticated country vibe, which ties in well with the clientele, who enjoy everything from mead to Mauritian chicken pâté.

Dave is a wine collector who also loves food and decided to make his hobby his trade. He and his staff have PhDs in salesmanship, pulling the foot traffic. He creates tastes for each customer. “Try some of this red cactus pear drizzle,” he urges, holding out a square of bread and a spoon. “Now try it with my Black Gold balsamic.” The combinations are ambrosial and irresistible (“the chefs go mad”, he says). Shoppers find their grocery cupboards bulging with the Rickety Bridge and Protea Hill products stocked by Elbows Up. Sheep’s cheese combined with red pears in wine with chilli, just for starters, as well as Dave’s own homemade preserves, are based on recipes passed down through the generations. “It’s all homemade,” he says, “I find little gems out there.” His Morning Munch cereal can be chewed in the car on the way to work—great for harassed Joburgers. Besides carrying a range of artisanal Belgian-style beer made in a micro-brewery in Gauteng (much like the garagiste wines), Dave specialises in Sauvignon Blanc from the Elim area.

The Bryanston Organic and Natural Market has been going for 30 years, and is worth a visit on a Saturday morning. Follow your nose to Ronnie Abro’s aromatic stall, The Cultured Bean. Ronnie gave up a profitable profession as an attorney three years ago to sell coffee, which holds “a certain mystique” for him. “Coffee is like whisky, but much nicer,” he laughs, referring to terms like ‘blends’, ‘rounded’ and ‘single varietal’. His stand stocks about 25 single varietal blends from Brazil, Costa Rica and Indonesia, as well as the Ethiopian Limu and Sidamo (“a lovely red coffee for filter coffees”), and Falcon Zambica AAA. He also sells Taste of Africa, a formulated blend of Kenyan, Malawian, Zambian, Ethiopian and Zimbabwean coffees. Ronnie finds Joburg has lots to learn about coffee culture and hopes that his passion for his product is infectious. When would-be coffee aficionados complain that their plunger coffee is too weak, Ronnie tells them to warm both the plunger and the mugs and to keep the milk at room temperature. “It’s all about the brew system,” he says. 

“Being a marketer can be a profitable way of life,” says Marina Conte of La Cucina. She supplies an entire vegetarian range, from antipasti (artichokes, grilled Italian vegetables, dolmades, caperata and stuffed peppers), grappa, stuffed olives and homemade sauces, to The Leaping Frog Market in Fourways. This tiny market is geared towards the discerning food connoisseur. “You have to be positive and confident about your product,” she says. “I believe in basil, it is the best.” Marina produces something different every week, such as her unusual liquid Belgian chocolate infused with chilli and ginger, with pitted Spanish olives.

The Pretoria Boeremark in Silverton is for serious food buyers out to get really fresh produce early on a Saturday morning. You need to be there from 5.30am, and anything after 9.30am is too late. Hester Hoogendijk gets up at 4am every day, supplying cheeses, six flavours of Greek-style yoghurt and butter from her farm Doornkraal outside Bapsfontein to hotels, casinos and the market. “Shopping in a mall is like going to a funeral, but at this market it’s like going to a big party,” she says. 
Hester started off selling milk from her three cows at Thembisa Station from the back of her bakkie.Now demand is over 5 000 litres a day from her company, Hijke. “Everything is handmade and we only employ six people, including my two doctor sons. We work very long hours,” she says. She has third place at the World Cheese Show in Dublin for her Gouda Light under her belt, a certificate from the Slow Food Movement for making her cheeses the old-fashioned way, and prizes for her Raclette and Parmesan. Hester wants eventually to move to the Cape, where her daughter is the winemaker at Spier. There she will settle down and make mouldy cheeses for a change.

Andy Green, who has started up The Chocolate Room at the Hertford Country House in Lanseria, also trades his wonderful chocolate brownies and artisanal breads at Killarney Mall every Thursday. He and Robyn Higgins are starting up The Farmers’ Country Fare in the Heart of Lanseria every Saturday in April from 9am to around 4pm. The market will carry produce from suppliers in and around Lanseria and the Cradle of Mankind, such as smoked meats, farm fresh veggies, cheeses, and of course Andy’s bread. There will also be seasonal fruit, such as peaches, oranges and strawberries. The idea is for people travelling to Hartebeespoort Dam to buy all their produce for the weekend, or people can take baskets and sit on the lawn and listen to music.

There are so many markets mushrooming in and around Joburg, from Mayfair’s spice route, to theSaturday Chinese veggie scene at Cyrildene, the Pan-African Congo market in Yeoville, the fabulous Irene market twice a month, and the African market in Pretoria. All of them exhibit passion and love for food which doesn’t break the bank. It’s a huge step away from the mall mentality associated with Joburg, and a breath of fresh air for the future.