Markets of Durban

 


Of all the markets we visit on our walking tour of central Durban, South Africa, the most memorable is the Bovine Market.

As the name suggests, you come to this simple space within a low metal shed to eat beef – but not a standard cut. The women working here dish up cow’s head, served with steamed bread. 

It’s a traditional Zulu treat, and a popular one in this maze of markets at Warwick Junction. There are outlets for all sorts of food and clothing, scattered across different levels in and around Berea train station.

By ourselves it’d be impossible to navigate without getting lost, but we’re being expertly guided through the markets by Jabulani, a local man who works for the Street Scene tour company (www.streetscene.co.za). He’s a relaxed guy with dreadlocks, who’s also a traditional healer and is very familiar with the markets and their traders. 

I skip the serve of cow head, but I’m fascinated by the colourful variety of products on sale, and the buildings around them. An arcade leads us through a building of Indian-style architecture near a mosque, to an undercover market with racks of bright women’s clothing.

 

 

Nearby there are pots for sale, and flowers, then we arrive at a curious side market where powdery brown and white balls – looking somewhat like cannonballs - are stacked up in pyramids. These are made of lime, which our guide tells us is ground up and used to paint houses, among other purposes. 

The Early Morning Market specialises in fruit and vegetables, and I’m impressed by the neatly arranged bowls of produce lined up for sale. At one stall, the seller has stacked green peppers in small pyramids, ready to go.

The most remarkable stop, however, is the Herb Market. Located on a former flyover, it’s a jumble of tiny stalls selling items used in traditional remedies. As we walk through, men are crushing ingredients in buckets using long poles. 

I spot different types of bark for sale, and Jabulani says you can buy animal parts here too. If a student is doing badly at exams, he explains, you might feed them something containing monkey, as that’s a quick-witted animal.

Not for me, but I’ll settle for bunny chow. This dish, unique to Durban, consists of curry served within a half loaf of bread, a legacy of the British Empire’s importation of sugar cane workers from India. 

Other than the obvious Indian culinary link, its origins are a mystery. Some people say the sugar cane workers used hollowed-out loaves of bread to take their lunch of curry to the cane fields.

There’s no rabbit in the curry, despite the name: bunny chow generally contains lamb or chicken curry, or vegetarian fillings such as curried vegetables or beans. 

Our tour ends with bunny chow at the Oriental, a famed restaurant inside a grand former railway station. Here I order the quarter-loaf version filled with spicy beans around a chunk of potato. It’s a filling lunch, even at half the usual size, and contains the unmistakable flavour of Durban.

Tim Richards visited Durban courtesy of South African Tourism

 

You can get Durban included as a stopover on our Discoverer round the world

 

Published by Stuart Lodge