All the fun of the fair where everything’s gonna be irie
It’s changed, grown, and moved, but this long-running market has plenty to offer, in different ways.
Last time I was at the Linden Market was maybe six years ago, when it was in 4th Avenue in Linden, after moving from 7th Street because of its growth and popularity. It burgeoned, having developed a name for being a never disappointing, worth-the-visit sort of market, with original food and other tables selling satisfyingly good local products. Even before Covid times it had grown even more and had to move … erm, where? Okay, down below Linden then.
Just as Cape Town’s Oranjezicht City Farm market moved to Granger Bay, the Linden Market moved south of Tana Road, into the lovely Botanical Gardens of next-suburb Emmarentia.
At its within-gardens entrance, we are temperature checked and counted in by giving each person a clothes peg. I get a stamp on my wrist of two little pandas. It reminds me of the days of going to “sessions” or night clubs when you battled to get rid of the ink before your parents saw it. Vaguely comforting cheesy music, as at so many events, has started up. Is it Have you ever seen the rain?
I admit I whizz past the interior and beauty stalls section, heading for the food. It’s the reason I loved the Linden Market of Linden. There were such excellent stallholders that some would go on to open their own vittles shops, generally right there in Linden, having really market-researched their popularity.
I am beginning to resent, slightly, the crowds or queues of people at the stalls where I want to explore the wares, which is essentially all of them. A friend has come along with me. We are soon parted and that is probably a good thing. I am hell-bent on seeing what each place is doing once I get past the Doc Martens stand, from where on it’s all food stalls.
The weather’s marvellously summery and cloudless. That means it’s hot and maybe a tiny bit bothering for many. Everyone’s in summer clothes including me. The shoulder straps of my dress seem to be taking turns to flop down to my elbows.
“Why are you asking so many questions?” complains a stallholder. I look at him evenly and ask him what he wouldn’t want anyone to know about his product. He looks alarmed. I regret doing that and resort to communing with the dogs around me when the people seem too much. I am not good in crowds, at parties, in churches, even masked. I always want to break away. That’s how I came out as one of the early finishers of 60,000 initial entrants in a 702 Walk The Talk. I should do Comrades.
Here are dogs’ drinking stations, at every path junction. The Linden Market is known for Date-a-Dog, an initiative for getting to know and maybe go on to adopt a shelter dog. There are lots of lovely dogs around anyway.
Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not imagining seeing a fox tail protruding from between some feet at a food truck. I first notice the twitching white tip and then the bushy rust-coloured tail. The animal reverses out. He’s on a lead but looks as though he wants to bolt like I do. Our eyes meet. His are bright and beady, like Teddy Bear eyes, either side of a pointed, white-striped and rust snout. Unmistakeably vulpine ears too.
I seem to be juggling and dropping in turns my pen, notebook, sunglasses and my phone. The fox watches, wrinkling his brow a little. The person at the other end of the lead has just bought a burger, I think, but they’re both gone when I pick up my phone once more outside TLC’s (The Local Centre’s) stand of baguette submarines in tantalising brown card containers. At this stage I plan to return for a breakfast sub, stuffed with crisp bacon and softly scrambled egg.
Before an alcohol enclave, where there are stands of Mexican cocktails, even beergaritas, gin drinks and where Mad Giant is selling its craft beer as well as Simonsig wines, is a place for lamb or trout wraps, another a prawnery of shrimp and calamari dishes.
After it are stands for Bliksem biltong, pickles and Italian sauces. Well-known SumTing Fresh is here, among Thai and Sri Lankan food stands and one for gluten free corn products. Well, yes, surely.
I’m still hunting for Linden food, like maybe something from The Whippet, the Cheese Gourmet, the sausage and pieman of the Little Deli and especially Linden Loaves. No one will go hungry with what there is here; so far and I’m nowhere near the end of all the food stalls but I’m wondering if the Linden Market is changing character and maybe becoming more of an event, just as much fun but something else. I haven’t been keeping up since its own Linden days, so it’s very possible. Most stalls are from other places further flung around Jozi.
When I ask the slightly heat-flustered but patient and very capable organiser, she assures me, “There are some Linden-people stands but they’re more on the crafts side.” She promises to find me a list.
From other-flung places too are Balkan Burgers here and a roti stand with a pretty good bunny chow in evidence.
“You did almost kill us at your wedding with those!” exclaims a woman in a floaty sundress to another, “in a good way!”
My friend has been more with the biltong goods, and has found a place called CC (Charlie’s Chicken) for nifty, deboned, stuffed and rolled-up chickens that you can fling onto a Weber and serve cut into convenient, flavoursome, chickeny disks. He has discovered all the braai sauces and rubs as well as hot sauces galore. I’ve often wondered why there are so many braai sauces and rubs and who buys them. But then I wonder, too, if South Africa is competing with Korea for a plethora of hot-hot-hot sauces. How many do we need? Plenty, it seems, surprisingly.
Around a corner on the long food drag, past a very international charcuterie and a similarly international packed cheesery, I find a few people doing some food things that are different and some downright surprising. They are also doing them well.
The first of these is Hannay’s. Yes, it is also a place of sauces but I see a sign well-spelled, like a send-up of adspeak, reading, “A refreshingly twisted mistake, loved on a variety of levels.” This part of it is for the Vanilla Bean & Mustard sauce. It is not his and brother’s liveliest sauce, surprisingly, though on tasting it I imagine it jazzing up a mackerel. Danny Enck simply likes it with mashed potato but he and brother Charles have unusually good basil sauces and a complex and impressive mazavaroo, the Mauritian chilli sauce. This is composed, that’s what it is, with differently tasting, fresh, organic chillies and their own hotnesses of course, red Malawian birdseyes, jalapenos and caysans. It’s delicious, not something I’d say easily about the myriad hot sauces nowadays, seemingly around for shock-kicks of heat and little else.
A few cheered paces down the same dappled park path lands me at WTF, where the last letter stands for fudge. Yes, there are people who happily eat uncooked cookie dough all over the States. When Lee-Ann Kretzmann tried it on our people here, they were, not so very surprisingly, not that keen. I’ve read in wonder about it. What the recipes often advise is that, to make it taste and act a bit less raw (just a refrigerated mix of flour, sugar and butter), it’s good to bake the flour first.
Lee-Ann mixes hers with fudge and people seem to love it. What I particularly fall for are the little cookie dough-and-fudge balls in their sweetie papers, decorated and presented in cute boxes.
In great need of excellent coffee I stumble on the Lucky Bread Company barrow-stand and everything is going to be very alright again. I drop my pen into my coffee, recover it and eat a real, exquisitely happy-making pain au chocolat. I’m eye-wideningly impressed by the quality of the coffee when not pen-infused but especially by the patisserie here. I can go on.
I’d promised myself a quick visit to an unfood new section of the Linden Market, run by the local Goethe-Institut. It’s a second-hand, “pre-loved” or vintage section, blissfully under cool cover, featuring collectables and also clothing, not necessarily German.
A man in a longer than usual dark suit and a bejewelled sikh’s turban is walking carefully and bravely on the uneven lawn, atop very high heeled courts that also feature unrelenting five centimetre platforms beneath the fore sections.
I’m a bad clothes shopper but at vintage stores or stalls I often find people who tell me what to buy. This time I comply and leave with a pale blue lace shirt and a beautifully made violet and white matchstick-striped one.
Outside again, with a carefully chosen view of the Lucky Bread Company stand, on a lawn of white umbrellas under which people and dogs are seeing and being seen, I gloat over my shirt purchases with a further supply of coffee. A woman with a striped handbag, a sweeping leopard print dress and a dalmation is opening a bottle of champagne, seemingly for immediate consumption.
Other people flop around on the lawns and the music or concert area some way away has become more attention-seeking, strident. Hotel California is what I’m hearing and what I’m watching, apart from even more coffee and two luscious patisserie items, called pistachio dogs for some reason, is a tent opening within which a handsome man is wielding a pop gun.
At this I realise something about the fun of a fair and that I’m now having some of it. The Botanical Gardens is the beautiful setting for it.
I also consider the difference between street food from trestle tables on Linden’s streets and fair food from stalls in this neighbouring park or Gardens. The very nicest thing, in any case, is the freedom of being out again, feeling a little of what we keep speaking of as “normal”. Every little thing plays. Hey, I’m alright, something like that fox. DM/TGIFood
The next Linden Market is on 27 and 28 November. The Linden Market
The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food ‘rescued’ from the food chain. Please support them here.