‘Plat op die aarde’ in the heart of the Cape Whale Coast
The no-frills Hermanus Country Market offers a taste of country living. Bread and pastries come from a local baker pair in town. The wines celebrate the terroir of the Hemel-and-Aarde and the pies are the handiwork of a local couple.
It’s heralded as the new millionaire’s mecca of South Africa, with a combined worth of over $26-billion (that’s R416-billion in rand) floating about thanks to hundreds of rich new residents migrating to this sleepy Cape Whale Coast hollow. Yet Hermanus isn’t flashy. You won’t find grunting Ferraris hurling past you on the main road. And there are no self-proclaimed social media influencers posing on the beaches on a random Tuesday morning. At the rainbow’s end of the Hemel-and-Aarde Valley, Hermanus is very much “plat op die aarde”.
This is most apparent at the Hermanus Country Market on Saturdays. This no-frills market has become a weekend must for locals and visitors alike, who are drawn there by the smell of freshly-baked pastries and ground coffee beans – and the prospect of meeting up with friends.
The market is very much “country”, complete with wooden pallet booths set up for the vendors and wood chips on the ground to keep the notorious Cape weather off your boots, as far as possible. The vendors are local Overbergers who clearly get along like old friends. Those who share booths “kuier” in between selling and happily trade their commodities. A piece of biltong for a loaf of ciabatta. A packet of pears for some pancakes. A cup of coffee for a warm pastéis de nata. The communal spirit of the market is tangible and sets the tone for the market as a whole. Understandable, considering the market has been going for 15 years, since 2007. There are currently more than 90 traders offering a range of food and drinks, handmade crafts and entertainment at the town’s cricket club, where the market’s held.
The vendors create a type of “kraal” to the outside, with a communal seating area and kids’ play area inside. From here you can leisurely stroll about to find grub.
Read more: Maverick Mapper: Day trip to Hermanus
As you step into the market, you’re greeted with fresh seasonal produce. Colourful radicchio, radishes and kohlrabi in winter, along with a few pears and tomatoes – the last of the year’s harvest. The offering changes with the seasons, so there’s always something new on offer. You can do your weekly shop first thing, and pick up your goodies as you exit again after grabbing a bite to eat.
A hearty selection of Overberg classics is available at the market. You won’t find any chain vendors or Cape Town trader regulars here – which is a good thing. Bread and pastries come from a local baker pair in town. The wines all celebrate the unique terroir of the Hemel-and-Aarde. The pies are the handiwork of a local couple, oom Deon and tannie Heidi Gouws. Heck, even the eggs on Hetta’s scrambled egg and bacon rolls are from a farm outside Stanford.
For a few months in 2022 up until July, there was one imported surprise, however. Yana’s Cakes. Yana Ignatiuk is a Ukrainian confectioner who got stranded in South Africa with her husband and daughter when the war in their homeland started in February. At first, the young family was paralysed by fear. But then Yana decided to bake while she waited. She first started baking for locals and was soon asked to join the Hermanus Country Market as a special guest. Her delightful creations are almost too beautiful to eat… almost. Unreal imitations of real fruit made from all-edibles and crammed with creme patisserie and fruit compote. And, of course, her now-famous seven-layer cake, inspired by a recipe book from her mother and grandmother. Although Yana has since returned to the Ukraine, she became a much-loved favourite at the market during her short time here. “The people of Hermanus were so welcoming and friendly to us,” she says. “Everyone is so warm and funny and made me feel at home during this difficult time.”
Next door to Yana’s Cake is Brood etc., owned by local bakers and private chefs Susan Thirion and Johan Lamprecht. Johan has a soft spot for Yana’s macarons and trades them readily for pastries from their Brood etc. table. The loaves are a Biblical picture of abundance with woven and pleated stone-ground selections. You can’t go wrong with one of their giant ciabattas to take home for the week.
Further along, inspirations from Greece are on offer from Melinda Conroy’s spanakopita stand. “I used to travel with my late husband and Greece was our favourite destination,” she shares as we wait for a stuffed triangular parcel to heat up on her small gas stove. “This is a local recipe for spanakopita I learnt while there.” True as Bob, it’s the tastiest spanakopita you’ll find this side of the Mediterranean, complete with nuanced notes of mint and dill, and dashes of salty feta, of course.
Next to Melinda you’ll find Heidi’s Pie Basket, flaunting golden, puffed pastries crammed with juicy filling. Bobotie, pepper steak, and creamy chicken are among the favourites, along with a few sweet options. Hermanus local Deon Gouws transports the pies to the market while his wife, Heidi, bakes them fresh in their home. A family friend helps run the stall and barely keeps up as the piping hot pies fly off the shelves and into hungry buyers’ bellies. “I make the pastry,” Deon proudly declares. “We use only the best ingredients for the dough as well as the filling. You won’t find any nonsense in these pies.”
While carbs are king, especially on a cold winter’s morning, there are plenty of meaty options to go around too. Jalapeno Bombs, for example; a cream cheese-stuffed whole jalapeno wrapped in sausage meat and bacon and fired over the coals. These scrumptious morsels may be low-carb, but I can’t vouch for their cholesterol count… Either way, they’re moreish and hot and delicious.
Other market favourites include Daan’s Bakery with a selection of the freshest doughnuts and croissants (the hazelnut praline one is particularly delicious), and Slovenian lamb served with a lekker local roosterkoek that’s braaied on the spot. The fresh oysters are a favourite on sunnier mornings, washed down with a bottle of heavenly Hemel-and-Aarde bubbly. You can get this and other frothy provisions from the Old Harbour Beer stand, adjacent to the seating area.
If you’ve toasted long enough in the winter sun and devoured all those “no nonsense” pies along with some biltong and droëwors, it’s time to retire home. Don’t forget to collect your fresh goodies before you go, and be sure to stock up on some more of Heidi’s pies, a few sweet pastries and a loaf of sourdough for the week. DM/TGIFood
- Hermanus Country Market is open every Saturday from 9am until 2pm.
- The market has live music every other weekend. On the off weekends, the retro tune stand Overboogie plays classics from an original long-player turntable.
- Dogs are welcome when leashed. In fact, you may just leave with a new forever friend! The market works with the local Hermanus animal welfare society to help put shelter animals in permanent homes. On some weekends, there are shelter pups on-site and many of them leave with new families on the day. Be warned… but it’s also the most heart-warming thing.
- The market is parent-friendly. Kids have a dedicated, central playing area surrounded by wooden benches from where the folks can keep a watchful eye. There is also face painting and an adorable puppet show stand operated by local storyteller, Beauty.
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