One of the things that I really like about living in Stellenbosch is the number of fabulous weekend markets that there are right on our doorstep.
Of all of them though, my particular favourite has to be the Stellenbosch Slow Market. It’s based at the Oude Libertas wine farm just a hop, skip and a jump from the town centre on the R310 and sells everything from locally-produced fruit and veg, some even with the dirt still on them, to scrumptious artisanal food and wines.
Throwing open its doors every Saturday morning at 9am to the sound of an old slave bell and closing after lunch at around 2pm, it’s located on the side of the Pappagaaiberg (‘Parrot Mountain’ in Afrikaans), is surrounded by vineyards and oak trees and offers stunning views over the Stellenbosch mountain range.
So if we’re not going away for an adventure, what myself and my Beloved love to do is to pop along just before lunchtime, despite the inherent dangers of such an approach, in order to amble around and browse the delights on offer.
On the one hand, there’s a range of fine cheeses, of which the mature Boerekas (Gouda) is particularly tasty. These are sold by a lovely chatty women who always seems to have a glass of sparkling wine in the vicinity – no doubt purchased from one of the numerous stalls offering wine-tasting, one of which generally offers local Saldhana Bay oysters too.
On the other hand, there are home-made breads and quiches to sample, freshly-made fruit smoothies and a guy selling waffles that have to be seen to be believed – vast structures bound together with as much cream and fresh berries as it’s possible to pile up in one go.
Then you’ve also got cuisine with a somewhat more international flavour – Alsace-style Flammkuchen/Tarte Flambee, which is like a crispy, thin-crust pizza but comes with a crème fraiche rather than tomato sauce base, and Arabic chicken or lamb schawarmas, which are a more authentic, tasty and less greasy version of the Great British Kebab.
The Slow Food movement
And all of this to the sound of either live performers singing and playing guitars in true Afrikaner fashion, or piped tunes coming from a music stall that’s always bang smack in the middle of the proceedings and has an impressive collection of CDs, and even old-fashioned vinyl on offer. Great stuff.
But food isn’t the only thing to pick up here. There’s also a great selection of little stalls that I’ve had my eye on for a while now for gift-giving purposes.
These include fabulous hand-crafted jewellery as well as various kinds of African arts and crafts plus clothing of varying quality and styles. Among my favourites are the flamboyant, furry Peruvian hats with earflaps in myriad colours including purple, which, unfortunately, my Beloved has banned me from purchasing due to the embarrassment factor.
The market itself though – along with its sister, the Willowbridge Slow Market up near the vast Tyger Valley shopping mall near Belville in Cape Town’s northern suburbs – is a member of the now internationally renowned Slow Food movement, which was set up in 1989 to try and counteract the impact of fast-food and the ‘fast lifestyle’ to which it is linked.
The aim was to revive people’s interest in the food that they eat, where it comes from and its impact on the environment as well as to maintain local food traditions and practices.
As a result, as a stallholder, you have to agree not to use chemicals in your food production. You can also only sell it locally when it’s in season so that you don’t generate excessive food miles and you have to promise not to use long-term cold storage methods for food preservation purposes.
Another thing that Oude Libertas is known for, however, is its Greek-style amphitheatre, which has been putting on productions from each November to March for the last 35 years or so – although these days, the focus appears to be more on live music than drama, dance or anything else.
Should you happen to miss the Slow Market on Saturday morning for whatever reason though, there’s no need to despair. Each Sunday between 10am and 3pm, and only 10 minutes or so by car out of Stellenbosch on the R44, Blaauwklippen (‘Blue cliffs’ in Afrikaans) hosts its own equivalent in the shape of a ‘Family Market’.
One of Stellenbosch’s oldest wine farms, it works its heritage by hosting a restaurant and wine-tasting facilities in charming Cape Dutch homestead-style buildings.
It also offers horse-drawn carriage rides around its vineyards in summer and has even set up an antique carriage museum, where you can see excellently-preserved landaus, barouches and the like on non-market days.
The market itself though is a relatively modern edition. It only opened its doors in early 2011, but again sells everything from fresh, local produce to home-made fare and hand-made crafts.
And should you decide to sample your culinary purchases on site, you won’t find any shortage of tables, hay bales and makeshift ‘bankies’, otherwise known as planks of wood balancing on a couple of crates, to rest your weary carcass upon. Either that or bring your own blanket and, weather permitting, you can have a nice picnic on the grass.
Another young pretender that’s just a couple of minutes away, meanwhile, is the Root 44 Market at the Audacia Winery. It’s only been around since the start of 2013, but is open all weekend from 9am until 3.30pm and is housed in a couple of huge marquees.
While it’s more of a place to concentrate on your gift and clothes shopping than food and beverages, it does have the distinction of playing host to a goodly number of craft beer stalls – a relatively uncommon sight in the Cape Winelands, for obvious reasons – and of serving my Beloved the best burger, bar none, that he’s ever had the good fortune to taste. Praise indeed.