The Victorian state government today announced plans for a redevelopment of the iconic Queen Victoria Market. It got me thinking about some of the best markets I have been to and if anything from those could be used in the new ‘Queen Vic.’
Nestled between the northern city of Haifa and the Lebanese border, sits the seaside town of Akko. Home to a world heritage listed ‘old town,’ Akko is famous for its hummus. Indeed, to have sampled the local version is to leave forever grateful, yet eternally unsatisfied with any other variety, home made or otherwise.
The most disgusting and crass markets I have ever been to are in Bali. Nearly every traveller over the age of 40 laments at the paradise lost and with good reason. Most of Kuta is now simply a tacky and cheaper version of the Gold Coast, if that is possible. Amongst the slime and sleaze of the backstreets of Kuta one can find stickers and t-shirts which offend even the most ardent critic of political correctness and giant silver plated concrete penises sharing space with Buddha. Truly revolting.
The Queen Victoria market is built on Melbourne’s oldest cemetery. Ghost tours of the city pass by on dark and chilly nights, recounting the legends of those buried under what is now the main car park. Even with this macabre connection, I doubt Lord Mayor Robert Doyle will be open to suggestions of a fetish section in the market. In Bamako’s Central Marché one can buy the heads, skins, feet and furs of animals to assist with their magic spells, evil curses or sexual prowess.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
In a country covered in temples, Thailand welcomes many pilgrims from across the world. In the northern city of Chiang Mai a different kind of religious experience awaits the book worshippers. Gecko Books has not one but two stores in Chiang Mai and they are double storey! In a country renowned for cheap booze, cheap women and cheap STD’s, one can now add cheap books. Booklovers – bring an extra suitcase for your next trip to Chiang Mai.
In 2006 I was travelling through West Africa. Days after arriving in Conakry a general strike was announced and there was talk of a coup d’etat. Helicopters were flying overhead each day and at night gunshots could be heard in the distance. The strike coincided with the beginning of the FIFA World Cup. With all the shops and markets closed, each day I walked down to small café and watched the games with locals on a small grainy television and drank mint tea. Federation Square had nothing on the atmosphere that was contained inside that tiny little tea shop.
What to get the 21st century Qatari man who has it all? How about a prayer mat with compass on it? Practical and spiritual all in one! Now you will never miss your chance to pray exactly towards Mecca ever again!
African markets really are the best markets anywhere in the world. The women here are cooking the Ugandan dish matoke, which is made from green bananas and in this restaurant, served with fish.
Outside is one of the busiest car parks you will ever see.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
While African markets may be the most entertaining in the world, Asian street food is hard to beat. Under this bridge in busy Kuala Lumpur, businessmen and women lunch on a dish of rice or noodles, from one of the many mobile vendors.
Kejetia market in the central Ghanaian city of Kumasi is one of the largest open air markets in all of Africa, with over 10,000 stores and stalls. Like many African markets one can find all sorts of cheap plastic crap imported from China, yet is also has food stalls, fabric shops and sells many varieties of spices and grains. The paths throughout the market are extremely narrow and one is assaulted by the sounds, smells and other sensations which flow throughout Kejetia, ranging from over enthusiastic shopkeepers to mounds of dried fish to dance hall music and slippery, muddy paths. It is a wonderful experience.
What can you say about Marrakech that has not been said before? This place is amazing and if you have not been there, drop everything and go – right now! Each night, the Djemaa el-Fnaa comes to life as pot smoking hippy tourists, families, touts, drug dealers, street children, prostitutes and locals swarm into the square to get a piece of the action. One can dine on a cow’s head, smoke a sheesha or join a crowd of musicians and play drums with the local guitarist who wears a chicken on his head.
As Akko is known for its Hummus, Nablus in the West Bank is known for the Arabic sweet Knafeh. The desert is a cheese pastry soaked in sugar syrup and giant circular trays of it can be found on just about every street corner in the marketplace. The Nablus marketplace also serves a huge range of other sweets, as well as fresh eggs, meats and spices. In contrast to the everyday feel of the market stalls, the walls around the marketplace pay homage to the so called martyrs of the Palestinian cause, their images adorning the brickwork like a Big Day Out poster would at the Queen Vic.
In Western Kenya, about one hour from the city of Kisumu, is the village of Odede. The Odede local market is nowhere near as big as Kejetia, nor does it have the range of wares as Bamako’s Central Marché. It is simply a typical example of a small, local African market. As anyone else would visit their local supermarket, people in Odede visit their market. The stalls sell fish, caught locally from Lake Victoria and bananas, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and onions. Some of the mamas cook samousas and chapatis on site and others sell imported, second hand clothing. Odede market takes about 10 minutes to circumnavigate, but as a one time, short term resident of Odede, it holds a special place and because of the people easily becomes your ‘local’ and a great place to shop and hang out.
Travellers rarely have a reason to be in Shona. I was there on a bus to Madaba, having spent a day out seeing Mt Nebu and the Dead Sea. While waiting for the bus to fill, this old man was my entertainment, as he cut up old Styrofoam boxes and used the smaller bits to repair the less damaged boxes. Sitting there with his old knife and a roll of sticky tape he quietly and happily went about his trade, testing the strength of each new box he bought back to life before adding to his collection.