I have a confession to make: I adore markets. It’s a condition which is definitely congenital. Where ever I go in the world, one of the very first places I will visit will be the market. Forget the museum or the gallery or the cafe. The market is where it’s at.
Why so obsessed? I hear you ask.
Firstly, you can always depend on The Market for providing you with a cheap and tasty meal (always a priority in my book). Secondly, they offer an unparalleled opportunity for the traveler or tourist to experience a culture in 4D; they are the stained-glass windows through which we peep into another culture.
Food is one of, if not the most fundamental pillar of any culture, as it is the one thing which connects people across all social classes; it is home, it is childhood, and as you, the foreigner, lift the spoon to your lips and breath in that particular aroma, you are partaking in a universal cultural experience and can, if only for a moment, catch a glimpse of what it feels like to belong. The expat constructs their own cultural childhood in a new country as they slurp from dishes of steaming soup and suck meat from charred bones in the dark and warrenous passageways of The Market.
However, markets are not just about food. They are about language too, as our ears are assaulted by a tumbling barrage of foreign sounds. And with language comes The People. You want to understand how a foreign culture operates? Go to the market and observe. Are people direct or reserved? How much eye contact do they tolerate? How loudly do they speak? Subconsciously we build a simple profile of cultural behaviours which we can then adopt ourselves.
Before I came to Maputo, several different uninformed types told me food in Maputo is Expensive with a capital ‘E’ and that I shouldn’t shop in the market because it is unhygienic and dangerous.
Apparently, just like chapas, markets are places where you’re likely to be assaulted and robbed. Which, just like some of the negative opinions people expressed about chapas, is for the most part, complete rubbish.
However, as it is normal (for the elites) to have a cook and other members of staff working for you, a lot of people have never visited the market at all: the thought may not have ever even entered their mind.
Food in Maputo is expensive if you shop in the supermarkets and only eat out in the upmarket restaurants. Compared to southern Europe where high quality fruit and veg are available at ridiculously low prices, the produce available in supermarkets in Mozambique, most of which is actually imported from South Africa, is extremely pricey for what it is: think sad, greying cauliflowers triple wrapped in plastic, the spinsters of the vegetable tray, or carrots which are so bitter and mushy, you’d rather use cigarettes for crudités than have to chew your way through such disappointment.
The solution to this is of course, not using the super markets at all: apart from their being horribly overpriced, they are not even convenient as they are no where near as widely spread as they are in the UK meaning that in all likelihood there won’t be one near your house. The freshest food is found in the market and by buying food there you are:
- Supporting small traders, most of whom are women, and thereby contributing to the local economy.
- Buying fresher produce for much fairer prices.
- Forming relationships with local people.
- Learning the local language and customs and local ingredients which lady traders will happily tell you how to prepare.
And so without further ado I present, my guide to the markets of Maputo. (N.B. This is a work in progress so stay tuned for updates)
Mercado Central (The Central Market)
Where: Located on Avenida 25 de Septembro, in the Baixa, the heart of downtown Maputo, the Mercado Central’s proximity to various essential Maputo sites makes this the most touristy of all Maputo’s markets.
I visited the Mercado Central during my first week in Mapto whilst on a walking-tour of the Baixa and whilst the range of produce on offer seemed the most comprehensive of the markets I’ve visited, it is as tourist-trappy as any market in Africa can be. Prices were higher and not as negotiable, although the girls were happy to let me try some of the more exotic fruits (for a fee). There was also a bit of hassle with hawkers selling handicrafts. “Miss! Miss! Hello! Good Morning! Miss!”. OK, if you’re just visiting once but having to put up with being treated as the tourist every week whilst doing your shop would probably get a bit tedious.
What: A wide selection of fruit and vegetables including exotic delights such as massala, ata and mafiloa. Homemade chutnies and piri-piri. A more limited selection of fish and meat both fresh and dried. And also some handicrafts – wickerwork etc.
Atmosphere: Housed in a beautiful building considered the twin of the Railway Station, the Central Market is a must-see. It is probably the most tastefully presented and well-ordered of the markets. However, because of the higher numbers of tourists who visit there both the atmosphere and the prices can be a little bit less ‘friendly’.
Best Buy: Wicker work and fruit.
$$$:….significantly higher than elsewhere.
Where: On the intersection between Avenida Vladmir Lenin with Mao Tse Sung. Round the corner from Fatima’s backpackers.
What: Fruit and veg, dried fish, clothes, hair salons, brica-brac, seamstresses, cheap restaurants.
Atmosphere: A bit more of a local’s place, it fills up at lunch time when people come in to have chicken and rice or stew and xima for low prices. Expect to pay 150 – 200 mets for an enormous portion of whatever you order.
Best Buy: A cheap and cheerful lunch, a weave or braids.
$$$: Not as expensive as Mercado Central, but still a bit pricey because of its proximity to Fatima’s hostel and its central location. Though not a tourist hub, it is recommended in most guides so enough foreigners have wandered in here to make the traders pretty wily. I remember, my first time there, the woman I was buying from calmly told me potatoes were 100 mets a kilo (they’re normally 30 – 40). She took quite a bit of convincing otherwise.
Where: In Malhangalene. Avenida Acordos de Lusaka (I think). But ask any taxi driver – they will know.
What: Stolen luxury goods, car parts, cars, motorcycles… and the best goat meat in Maputo.
Atmosphere: Definitely not for tourists, take all the necessary precautions. It is huge and sprawling and extremely masculine, the only women being the ones who work in some of the informal restaurant in the main body of the market. The bokes shouldn’t give you too much hassle though if you are firm.
Best Buy: A mac book pro (it might even be YOUR mac book pro which was stolen last week.), anything which you’ve had nicked, and ……. GOAT MEAT.
This last one cannot be stressed enough. Going into the section of the market which is covered from the East, you need only walk 20 yards through the tunnels of shacks until you happen upon the back of a concrete establishment painted red.
This place serves the best goat stew in all of Maputo, dark with honey and richly spiced. You even see ministers from the government sneaking in dressed in their suits. They serve the whole animal including the head (though you have to order that specially). Order the stew including offal accompanied with xima and prepare for a serious mouthgasm.
$$$: 500 USD for a Mac Book Pro. 200 meticais for the best goat you have ever eaten in your life.
Mercado Museu or Barracas do Museu
Where: Occupying the block behind the geology museum and next to the chapa station, this warrenous confusion of congregated iron shacks and concrete shells is best known among the ex-pats for being a cheap booze pick-up point.
The drill is this: the guys selling the booze run over to the cars and surround them, each one fighting and shouting over each other to get the order. The first bloke to run back to the stalls and get back to the car with your order gets the money. I remember being quite taken aback by the clamour of people the first time I went with friends to pick up some beers but it’s all part of the experience. Just be civil and calm.
What: On the east side of the market you can find the stalls selling groceries, fresh fruit and veg and dried and tinned goods. Also some hardware. And on the West side, booze and take-away food.
Atmosphere: Very much a local’s place and, as a result, it is a really friendly place once you get to know it. You will probably draw a fair amount of stares at first and maybe even some comments. I remember the first time I went in, a girl loudly asked her friend “What’s this white girl doing here?” It felt like a rhetorical question and she looked pretty moody so I decided not to stay and answer her.
However, I shop regularly with one woman on the west side of the market, buying all my cheap veggies there, including avocados for 20 mets! And she has been teaching me some basic changana which has been a fun challenge. I now greet her and order most of my shopping in changana which everyone who works at the market thinks is hilarious. A simple ‘See you tomorrow!’ will elicit gales of uproarious laughter from the traders. Maybe it’s my accent…
N.B. I went in a few days ago and it was one of the trader’s birthdays so the women were singing a traditional song for her and doing a procession. They presented her with various gifts – a set of glass serving bowls and 200 meticais was the big event, followed by pieces of fruit and other food.
Best buy: Groceries and cheap booze.