Over the past year, Cape Town has gone completely ape shit for markets. Since the Old Biscuit Mill established itself as the place to be on a Saturday morning, a litany of other quirky little establishments have cropped up all over the place, meaning Capetonians can now get their market fix almost any day of the week.
For those of us who prefer not to have to rub up against craft beer-swilling hipsters, and are less than thrilled by the prospect of circling Woodstock all morning looking for an ever-dwindling supply of parking places, this is a most welcome development.
There are few things I enjoy in this life more than a great market. They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Well guess what, if you play it right, a market can give you just that! Of course, if you’re one of those people with ‘ethics and morals’, you probably won’t be able to experience the full, unadulterated joy of sneaking back to the taster table, hoping the stall owner doesn’t recognise you from your visit 5 minutes prior. But for those of us without scruples, a market represents a perfect opportunity to fill your stomach without emptying your wallet.
That other old rumour that you shouldn’t drink before 12? Guess what, it doesn’t mean shit at a market. In fact sobriety is actively discouraged at most of them, with stall owners leading the charge, having long since bade farewell to sobriety by the time the clock strikes 9am.
The market is a parallel universe of awesome, where society’s traditional rules and standards need not apply. So for those of you who prefer your market experience without a side of hipster sweat and massive queues, here’s my guide to some of the best, both in and out of town:
City Bowl Market
Thursday 4:30 – 8:30pm, Saturday 9am – 2pm
A small and centrally located haven of deliciousness, devoid of both pretentiousness and parking issues, the City Bowl Market is fast becoming my go-to destination on a Saturday morning. What it lacks in terms of variety, it more than makes up for in charm and quality, with a number of stalls that regularly get me worked into a rabid frenzy of hunger.
Whether you’re in the mood for dim sum, spicy samoosas or a healthy salad (I judge you if this applies), there’s a range of options to suit your requirements. I seriously recommend getting well acquainted with one of my favourite discoveries to date – the chilli popper spring roll. This is a staple of my visits to the market, and something I’m even willing to pay for! R12 gets you one of these mind blowing concoctions, but there’s a well stocked taster table just so you can make absolutely sure you like them before you buy one (go back a few times, they keep re-stocking).
Other options you should think about trying are the cheesecake brownies, so drenched in sugary goodness that they could send a diabetic to their grave, and the melt-in-your-mouth macaroons, which easily give the smug Parisians a run for their money.
Bay Harbour Market
Friday 5-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9:30am – 4:30pm
This popular market in the heart of the republic of Hout Bay is more about the vibe than the food. My experiences here have ranged from sublime to absurd, with the most recent visit culminating in a stomach-churning encounter with a frozen prawn, deceptively hidden in a spring roll. I’ve also had my man bag, which is both stylish and useful I might add, viciously insulted by someone trying to sell me mozzarella.
But, aside from these somewhat less than ideal experiences, I’ve found my time here to be generally quite delightful. The venue is full of character and warmth, and suitable for any type of weather. Fires blaze during winter, and a neat little outdoor section provides sanctuary for sun seekers in the height of summer.
There’s also far more than just food on offer, with a wide range of clothes and trinkets making it the perfect place for a little Christmas shopping.
Not to be missed on a visit to the Hout Bay Market – the out-of-this-world lamb rolls, served with roasted cherry tomatoes and feta. Melt in your mouth fantastic!
Needless to say, I’d recommend you avoid Tao’s Asian Kitchen, who seemed less than interested in my near-death encounter with their under-thawed prawn.
Saturday Mornings, 9am – 2pm
This is the mecca of morning markets, and, as such, is a pilgrimage that should be undertaken by everyone at least once in a lifetime. Located on the Oude Libertas wine estate, this outdoor/indoor market just oozes charm and character, as well as alcohol – the Stellenbosch stall holders are clearly even more enthused by the prospect of drunken Saturday mornings than their city-based counterparts. Oh well, when in Rome I suppose.
The market is sprawling and diverse, and chock-full of all manner of delicious treats. It’s hard to know where to even start describing the bounty on offer – from giant stroopwafels to cinnamon rye rusks to chilli chocolate brownies, there’s so much food around it can actually get quite overwhelming.
Not only that, but taster portions are infinitely more generous out in the Boland. I have, on occasion, spent a good few hours trawling this market, savagely stuffing my face throughout, without spending more than R5.
If you have the time and inclination, you simply won’t do better than this for a Saturday morning’s entertainment. You might just want to make sure you rope in an abstemious and sober friend who’ll be able to get you home in one piece!