Sunday, 20 July 2014

Food Markets in Cape Town: A Cultural Experience

One of my favorite parts about traveling in any city is exploring the food culture. Food can tell you a lot about a place—it’s history, the people who live there, the resources available to these people, etc. Cape Town, with its rich and tumultuous history of many cultures blended together offers its own unique food experience.

And so while some people enjoy spending their time and money on adventurous activities and thrills, I’m perfectly content finding great places to eat and indulging myself. Cape Town has not disappointed when it comes to finding good food, whether highly acclaimed or lesser-known gems.

As a group, we’ve eaten at plenty of delicious restaurants around the city: Sevruga, Beluga, Mama Africa, Gold, Lyra’s, Hussar Grill and Brass Bell, among many others. However, a major part of the food scene in the city is not sit-down restaurants. Rather, I found the numerous food markets to be particularly enjoyable. Every major city has its food markets, but Capetonians really seem to relish the opportunity to try a variety of fresh foods and experience it in the marketplace setting, which allows for casual social gatherings, a quick drop by, etc.

During our stay, we visited three local food markets, each with their own distinct selection of foods both raw and prepared. They included the V&A Market on the Wharf, the Old Biscuit Mill (also known as the Neighbourgoods Market) and the Blue Bird Garage Food and Goods Market.

The V&A Market is located on Cape Town’s bustling waterfront, a central location popular to both locals and tourists alike. The only permanent market space among the three aforementioned markets, this market’s vibe fit in with that of the rest of the waterfront, an area known for being a bit ritzy and shopper-friendly. While I personally enjoyed a delectable steak and avocado wrap, others enjoyed homemade dried fruits and springbok jerky (a local specialty), fresh fruit smoothies, fish and chips, empanadas and a variety of other foods and cuisines with influences from around the world. The two-story market was a great place to convene after an afternoon of exploring the shops along the waterfront or even a visit to the aquarium located almost next door.

A birds eye view of the V&A Market on the Wharf from the second level balcony.

The next market we visited was the Old Biscuit Mill, which was my personal favorite of the three for its tasty and varied selection of foods and cool venue. Located in the Woodstock neighborhood in the eastern part of Cape Town, the Old Biscuit Mill is known as a hip marketplace and became extremely popular for it’s Saturday-only food market. The venue is a converted mill (hence the name) that houses the market along with various other shops and restaurants, most of which operate during the week as well. However, the relative infrequency of the market compared to the daily V&A Market made a trip there an experience in and of itself. The market is filled with stands where vendors sell locally made products similar to those found at the waterfront—except the options are staggering. I came planning to eat a light meal and left on a very full stomach.

Walking through the market was a bit overwhelming at first, but after perusing the options it was easy to get tastes of everything. Many of the vendors even gave out free samples of dips, salamis and other foods, a major plus for college students like us. I worked my way around the market to try as much as I could, and for my last purchase I settled on a deliciously amped-up hot dog: the “Mandog”. Made by Dasdog, the Mandog was a German frank topped with caramelized onions, rocket, bacon and dijonnaise on a freshly baked bun. While it was by no means healthy, it proved to be one of the tastiest foods I ate on the entire trip. Who knew I would find a German hot dog with flair at a market in Cape Town?

The Mandog from Dasdog in the Old Biscuit Mill in all its glory.  

Last, on our free weekend in Muizenberg we went to a local market called the Blue Bird Garage Market. The market, which was only open on Fridays, was similar to the Old Biscuit Mill but smaller. Once again, I managed to taste a variety of foods ranging from samosas to Chinese dumplings to fudge. The market was also unique for its location just a couple blocks from the beach in Muizenberg, a surfing town south of Cape Town. It was a fitting end to our food market experience.

Overall, I loved the food markets for their affordability, their incredible selection of food, their casual environment and their cultural value. One can go to any of the food markets and expect to spend anywhere between R50-120 and leave satisfied. The foods also represent the awesome diversity of Cape Town, a testament to its international flavor. Flavors from Asia, Europe and the Middle East complement the more traditional African foods found in the markets. Cape Town is truly an international city, and the food culture as demonstrated through the food markets reflects that.

-Ben Kahn

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