Tag Archives: Markets

Tiong Bahru: everybody’s welcome

When I go to an upmarket city like Singapore, I’m less interested in visiting the world class shopping districts or experiencing the shiny Singapore Flyer, or any other high class tourist attractions as I am in getting as close to tasting local life as I possibly can. I struck gold when I hopped off the subway at Tiong Bahru, following a recommendation from The Culture-ist which described it as a suburb “where Singaporean ‘Aunties’ shop at the market for durian, ‘Uncles’ chow down on a bowl of Bak kut teh and their hipster twenty-something kids sip on a latte around the corner at 40 Hands”. I had to see it.

I started my tour with a walk through the Tiong Bahru Market, which is a smorgasbord of fresh produce, seafood and meats, cheap clothing, plants and cut flowers. The Culture-ist was quite right, I saw several Aunties there, shopping for their week’s supply of durian or their two bananas. It has a very local feel about it, not in the least bit pretentious.

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I slipped out onto the street to find said latte. I had hoped to sit on the street outside the Tiong Bahru Bakery and do a little people watching, but my plan was thwarted by its sheer popularity on a Saturday morning. And it’s no wonder; the offerings are delectable, and the atmosphere magnetic. So instead, I slunk sheepishly away, coffee and croissant in hand, to find a shady step to sit on. Not very glamorous. Being around hipsters always makes me feel ultra un-cool. At least there are lots of old people in Tiong Bahru; sometimes I feel more at home around the aged anyway.

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There really are loads of little hipster handouts and shops in the area; cafes, bars, speciality book stores and even a male grooming parlor. That’s when you know. But they are indeed refreshingly interspersed amongst old school Chinese eateries and tea shops. It’s a pretty cool confluence of old and new.

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Tiong Bahru is a residential suburb. The low rise, “International Style” blocks were built between 1948 and 1954 to provide extra housing after WWII. They provides a stark contrast to the typical high rise apartment buildings that characterize Singapore’s public housing. With so much construction and reconstruction happening in Singapore, this little bubble of architectural history is rare, as is the leafy atmosphere between the buildings. The suburb feels a bit like a university campus. It made me realise how much I appreciate the large gardens and big open spaces I enjoyed growing up.

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20131202-131224.jpgA new apartment building going up just around the corner from Tiong Bahru

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Night Market Magic in Zanzibar

Stone Town’s nightlife starts as the sun begins to set over the ocean, casting a pink glow on the waterfront at Forodhani Gardens. Food vendors trickle in, populating the square in front of the Old Fort with tables of local cuisine; seafood, fresh fruit, kebabs, ‘Zanzibar pizza’, falafel, cassava and green bananas; all beautifully arranged and lit with twinkling oil lanterns. Tunic clad chefs donning bright white toques proudly invite you to browse their offerings. Orders are heated on glowing coals and served with Tanzania’s finest peri peri sauce. Sugar cane juice is pressed in hand mills. Hand mills! It’s a feast for the eyes, I tell you.

Before I get too carried away, it would be false not to admit that the charm of the market is its real selling point. It’s a festive place indeed, and every night it teems with people in search of a snack on a stick or a good conversation in the cool evening air; but there’s definitely a trick to choosing your treat. Precooked seafood is not a great idea, really, but anything prepared on the spot is definitely worth a try. Even if you’re not there for your evening meal, Stone Town’s night market is the place to meet up with friends and enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of the beautiful harbour town.

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Grahamstown farmers’ market

A little farmers’ market has emerged in Grahamstown. On a Saturday morning, a few stalls set up on the roadside outside the Old Gaol, selling artisanal bread, fresh vegetables, fish, cheese, nuts, plants, jams, jewellery and other home- or handmade produce. A contrast to the likes of the bustling Biscuit Mill Market in Cape Town and Arts on Main in Johannesburg, among others, this little market still has lots of charm.

Grahamstown Farmers' Market, by These Walking Boots IMG_0282 IMG_0287 IMG_0288 IMG_0303 Grahamstown Farmers' Market, by These Walking Boots

Neighbourgoods Market

Neighbourgoods Market, Braamfontein

One of the problems I have with inner-city rejuvenation, or gentrification, is that it often has the undesirable result that it displaces poor people or small businesses. Although a perceived benefit is that it takes middle class people back into the city, this really only happens in isolated bubbles, and is facilitated by the momentary unity created by the likes of a market. The Neighbourgoods Market is an interesting case, as it takes place, literally, in a parking lot (as well as on a rooftop). In this case, no displacement takes place, although the issue of isolation may still prevail. Nonetheless, if you can see past the lack of income-level diversity, these little shindigs are good for a red velvet cupcake and a bottle of craft beer.