Friday Morning at the Biggest Fresh Produce Market in Africa

by | May 17, 2023 | Food and Drink, Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre, Markets/Shopping | 8 comments

A couple of miles southeast of downtown Joburg, in a place called City Deep, there’s a produce market the size of a small town. The Joburg Market (next door to the Mutliflora Market) is the largest fresh produce market in Africa — or the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, depending on who you talk to — and it’s where most of Joburg’s restaurants, produce shops, and vendors buy their fruit and veg.

Inside Apple Queens at the Joburg Market, the biggest fresh produce market in Africa
Inside Apple Queens, one of several fruit and veg wholesalers operating in the Joburg Market.

The market consists of a number of halls, each one the size of a massive warehouse, where people buy produce in bulk. Two of the halls are for vegetables and two are for fruit. There are two halls devoted solely to onions and potatoes. Four of the halls are populated by wholesalers who sell smaller (but still large) quantities of the commodities traded at the market.

I met one of those wholesalers, Apple Queens owner Pranay Nagar, at a dinner party in Nelspruit several years ago. Pranay recently invited me to check out Apple Queens so I went last Friday with Thorsten and Gail.

Heather at Apple Queens
Hanging out at Apple Queens with my favorite fruit. (Photo: Thorsten Deckler)
Produce for sale at Apple Queens
‘Tis the season for fuerte avos.
Oranges and onions
Oranges and onions.

Shopping at Apple Queens

The market is only open in the morning, and we arrived at 7:00 a.m. to catch Apple Queens at the busiest time. Gail and I took pictures, Thorsten sketched, and then we went for breakfast at a little Portuguese café on the other side of the market. We then returned to Apple Queens, did a bit of shopping, and left by about 9:00 a.m.

Apple Queens in the early morning
Early morning at Apple Queens.

The coolest thing about Apple Queens is the diverse range of people who shop there. Lots of the customers are restaurant/shop-owners or food vendors, but regular shoppers also go there because the food is much cheaper than what you’ll find at a grocery store or greengrocer. I met one guy who was shopping to feed a madrasa with 40 children.

Apples at Apple Queens
Obviously there are lots of apples at Apple Queens, especially at this autumnal time of year. You can buy apples in bulk or in smaller quantities like these, which are targeted for private households.
Shopping at Apple Queens
Checking out the offerings.
Pears for sale
I wish I’d bought some of these pears — they look delicious.
Beans at the market
Beans!

The shopping routine is different at Apple Queens than at a normal store. Upon arrival, each shopper receives a big pallet on wheels and a small paper ticket. When the shopper chooses something to buy and puts that item on their pallet, an Apple Queens staff member writes the item’s code and quantity on the ticket. The shopper queues up at the check-out window, hands over their ticket, and the cashier tallies things up and collects payment. The shopper then shows their receipt on the way out and leaves the market with a pallet full of produce.

The departure line at Apple Queens.

I was too distracted by photography to really shop, but Thorsten and I did leave with a few nice packs of mushrooms and half a bag of apples, which we split with Gail.

The Rest of the Produce Market

It was fun to walk around outside between all the big halls, people-watching and dodging the big trolleys and forklifts, which come from every direction and often in reverse.

Guy pushing tomato trolley
Smiling guy in a colorful hat pushing a trolley of giant tomatoes.
Lady with fruit boxes
Lady balances four fruit boxes on her head as a forklift piled high with oranges bears down on her.
Inside Casa Madeirense
Thorsten (left) waiting his turn at the Portuguese café, Casa Madeirense.
Breakfast offerings at Casa Madeirense
Some of the offerings at Casa Madeirense, which sits in the middle one of the market’s parking lots. I had an egg-and-bacon Portuguese roll and it was really good. The coffee, unfortunately, was instant.
Cabbage forklift.
Guy on scooter at the produce market
Smiling guy on scooter.
Sketch of market
A crazy @theThinking_Hand sketch of a crazy market.

Two hours at the Joburg Market isn’t enough to really take in what’s happening there — I’ll have to go back. In the meantime thanks to Pranay and his Apple Queens co-owner, Dharmesh Dhanji, for the invite.

Craziness at the produce market
My favorite photo from the market.

The Joburg Market is at 4 Fortune Street, City Deep. Open from 5:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday.

8 Comments

  1. Barend van der Merwe

    ♥️

    Reply
  2. dizzylexa

    I’m dying to go back, the produce I got was fresh and cheap. Terry seems quite keen to join me on the next trip. Thanks for the invite.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Ahhhh, you guys will have a great time.

      Reply
  3. AutumnAshbough

    That sounds both fun and overwhelming. Apple season is long over here–what kind of apples did you get?

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I actually can’t remember! They’re sort of pink ladyish. But apples are really not as good as in the US – it’s a real South African shortcoming.

      Reply
      • AutumnAshbough

        Oh, bummer. I’d be interested in hearing what’s better in terms of produce!

        Reply
        • 2summers

          Avos, mangos, passion fruit, papaya…all amazing!

          Reply
  4. Siphiwe Eland

    I love this place. Staying few minutes away from the market.

    Reply

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